Military dinosaurs

16 10 2010

In an earlier post, PPT concluded that amongst all the censorship, jailing, repression and fear-mongering, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is so enmeshed with the the military that there is no distinction between the government and the military.

That being the case, we thought it worth looking at the military bosses. Not new army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha – there’s been considerable commentary on him in the media – but his new regional commanders in the north and northeast. These commanders are critical for the regime’s battle with the red shirts and the Bangkok Post has stories on both of them.

To the north first. The Bangkok Post reports on new 3rd Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wanthip Wongwai having “recently summoned security officers working with the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) in the North for a seminar on the army’s security and reconciliation policy” and told them they have been not up to standard. His evidence is that red shirts are strong in the north and are regrouping.

Wanthip is gearing up for the renewed fight and wants ISOC to do better, saying: “I think every one of us knows what we are supposed to do and we should start doing it…”. As the Post explains, “Isoc’s work at the provincial level largely focuses on intelligence and psychological operations. It also tries to counter disinformation and prevent manipulation of public opinion which it deems as posing a threat to national security.”

This is, in fact, a new definition of its role post-2006 putsch as coup leader and junta boss General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin tried to remake ISOC as a kind of internal security force to root out Thaksinites. Prior to this, ISOC was best known for its anti-communist activities that involved bombing villages, hunting down alleged communists and psychological operations. ISOC was also known to be involved in political shenanigans that don’t look all that different from the “fear factor” campaign currently being waged.

But back to the story. Wanthip, working with the Phitsanulok governor, called in some 1300 local leaders to hear that “the plot to overthrow the [royal] institution is true and can be proved.” PPT doesn’t believe him, but Wanthip is harking back to a well-used royalist notion that a threat to the monarchy will be taken seriously. We doubt this, especially as no evidence for the so-called fact has been produced. We think most local leaders will recognize this.

The Post story then tells readers what reconciliation means, stating that the “army has shown it is serious about reconciling with the grassroots supporters of the anti-government UDD. It has instructed that senior personnel _ up to the level of army region commander _ go door to door to meet the people in the North and Northeast, the two regions with the highest numbers of red shirt supporters. Apart from engaging the red shirt folk, high-ranking army officers also plan to meet local politicians and members of parliament to persuade them to help with the reconciliation campaign.”

Of course, this is not reconciliation. It is simply something that ISOC did in the anti-communist days of the 1960s and 1970s – propaganda for the government, hoping to win over the people to the government side. And as in those days, where there are failures, the guns get put into action.

Now to the northeast. The Bangkok Post recently had an interview with new 2nd Army Region commander Lt.-Gen. Thawatchai Samutsakhon. The general sees his main task as reducing political division. He then says: “I’ve been living in Isan for a long time and I understand the local culture well. Poverty is a major problem in the region. Those who have a lot of money want to become MPs. And no matter what political party they represent, they have to invest money to achieve that goal. Voters are happy to take the money candidates give, and the truth is they usually vote for the candidates who pay them the most, fearing it would be a sin not to vote for someone who has given them money.”

PPT guesses from this kind of ancient observation that when one lives on an army base, getting to know local culture is mediated through army eyes and imaginations.

As in the north, Thawatchai is sending out men to “tell the truth.” We are pleased to note that this general at least concedes that the army shot people during the battle for Bangkok in April and May, when he says that the “key message is that soldiers needed to use weapons to protect themselves … and none shot at innocent people.” The use of the word “innocent” is at least a step forward from the usual “we killed no one” line from the military and government.

Thawatchai seems to see Puea Thai Party parliamentarians as a kind of enemy and considers that the army must counter them. His view of red shirts is further shown in his comments on the emergency decree, when he claims: “Actually, keeping the decree would never have done any decent person any harm.” Clearly, those who support human rights or are politically active are not “decent people.”

It is clear to PPT that these “new” commanders have very old heads on their shoulders. As political dinosaurs, their ideas are fixed in a previous era, where anti-communism was the military’s bread and butter. Those ideas and tactics are now reincarnated in a plan that seems little different from those articulated in leaked documents from the coup junta and the military leadership under General Sonthi.

But to be fair, Sonthi simply parroted tactics that Privy Councilor, never elected prime minister, and former army chief General Prem Tinsulanonda advocated years ago. Prem’s shadow is one of the reasons for the enveloping political darkness that has descended on Thailand.


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