Wikileaks, the ambassador and the general

27 08 2011

In continuing PPT’s Wikileaks series, we look at a 2 March 2006 cable U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce wrote after have Thailand’s Army boss and his entourage to dinner. The cable is notable for its tone and its inability to assess the role of the military in the political struggle between then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his opponents.

Gen. Sonthi

Boyce hosted a dinner at his official residence for General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and his senior staff on 2 March. Sonthi is said to be “a protege of retired Army Commander and current Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont.”

Sonthi “suggested that the only way the Army would intervene [in the political struggle] would be to protect the monarchy and restore order.” Sonthi and his senior officers were said to be “surprisingly candid in telling Embassy officials about their dissatisfaction with Thaksin’s leadership — to the point of making jokes at his expense…” Even so, Boyce reported that “they took pains to demonstrate their intention to remain on the sidelines.”

Sonthi made a point of denying that he had already asked Thaksin to step down:

In a pull-aside before dinner, Sonthi briefed the Ambassador on his February 28 meeting with PM Thaksin. Sonthi said that, contrary to press reports claiming he had urged to PM to step down, he had simply urged Thaksin to back away from confrontation, show a willingness to make concessions, and generally take the high road when commenting on the political situation. He was quick to note, however, that given the PM’s personality, it was unlikely Thaksin would heed such advice.

It seems Boyce believed Sonthi. Sonthi and his staff are said to have:

appeared very relaxed throughout the evening.  GEN Chirapong Vanarat, Chief of Staff for GEN Sonthi’s inner office, went so far as to predict that Thaksin would have to step down within the next three days.

That said, these same officers gave numerous examples of steps they were taking to avoid giving any impression that the military intends to intervene. Overall, we were struck by how tepid the senior Army leadership’s support for Thaksin seemed to be.

The only stated reason for any intervention was a threat to the military.

Conspiratorially, Boyce talks of a Thaksin “mole” in the group: Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence Lt.-Gen.  ChatchaiThavaraputta. It seems he didn’t join in with the other boys in their joking and anti-Thaksin banter. Boyce explains:

His reticence was probably due to his having been an Armed Forces Prep School classmate of Thaksin’s….  Thaksin has been criticized by many within the RTA for promoting his classmates, graduates of Prep School Class 10, ahead of more senior officers.

Boyce and his staff saw another “mole”:

Officers at post had been concerned that the last minute addition to the Thai delegation of MAJ Saravudh Shinawatra, nephew of the Prime Minister, might inhibit conversation. However, Saravudh and the other aides waited outside the dining room throughout dinner.

He then disparages Saravudh by asserting he “spent most of dinner on a cell phone talking with two of his girlfriends.” PPT wonders how Boyce knew such intimate details.

Boyce concludes that “Sonthi gave every appearance of being a measured professional who is committed to keeping the Army on the sidelines of the unfolding political situation.”

By this point in the cables traffic, Boyce has told Washington that both the military and the monarchy are staying out of the political fray, on the sidelines or neutral. We can’t help wondering if Boyce was willfully misleading or whether he really did believe these patently false statements.


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4 03 2012
Wikileaks: Briefed by the junta « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] has also welcomed the illegal putsch. Of course, Boyce had met with Sonthi in advance of the coup, several times, and knew his thoughts on Thaksin. At that time, Boyce provided succor to the general, assuring him […]

5 03 2012
Wikileaks: Briefed by the junta « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] has also welcomed the illegal putsch. Of course, Boyce had met with Sonthi in advance of the coup, several times, and knew his thoughts on Thaksin. At that time, Boyce provided succor to the general, assuring him […]

5 03 2012
Wikileaks:Briefed by the junta « KHAMERLOGUE

[…] has also welcomed the illegal putsch. Of course, Boyce had met with Sonthi in advance of the coup, several times, and knew his thoughts on Thaksin. At that time, Boyce provided succor to the general, assuring him […]




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