Updated: An authoritarian royal embrace

18 02 2018

Nothing surprises when it comes to the military dictatorship. It has jailed hundreds, ignored the law, sent refugees back to jails several times, covered up murder and corruption, ignored human rights and embraced the nastiest of autocrats.

BenarNews reports that the junta has “defended its decision to award the chief of Myanmar’s armed forces a royal decoration…”.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was awarded the Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant” and was “nominated for the honor by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Aug. 21, 2017, four days before violence erupted in Rakhine state.”

That dating sounds suspicious but even if it is accepted, he has a nasty reputation. In fact, he seems the kind of military leader who would be a brother in arms with the Thai generals. Whatever the timing, the award represents Thai military and palace support for human rights abuses in Myanmar.

He received the award from his Thai counterpart, Gen. Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The award, the Thai military said, was “to show the long and close relations” between Thailand and Myanmar.

That truth is confirmed when Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich told Reuters that the presentation of the honor to Myanmar’s military chief was “a separate issue from human rights…”.

The royalness of the award frightened human rights advocates. Those “interviewed by BenarNews also criticized the decision to honor the head of the Myanmar military, but asked that they not be identified for fear of being accused of violating Lese-Majeste…”.

Update: Helpfully, the Bangkok Post has an interview with Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, pointing out that this is his second royal decoration. He states:

The military leaders of both countries have been quite close for some years now.

I have had a close relationship with Thai generals starting with [chief of Defence Forces] Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn’s predecessor, Gen Songkitti [Jaggabatara].

The one I was closest to is Gen Tanasak [who served in the post between 2011-2014] but I am also close to the others. His successors are Gen Worapong [Sanganetra] and Gen Sommai [Kaotira] then Gen Surapong [Suwana-adth] and the current chief, Gen Thanchaiyan Srisuwan].

He is also close to privy council head General Prem Tinsulanonda and thus has that palace connection that links military and monarchy. When asked of his status as Prem’s “adopted son,” he replied:

During the time when Gen Tanasak was the defence chief, he gave me a chance to pay respects to Gen Prem who is the same generation as my father. When we met, we had an exchange of experiences, of being leaders. He [Gen Prem] gave me advice. Being like father and son is very good and makes things better in many ways.

Frighteningly he says of the relationship between the two sets of murderous militaries:

We are like brothers.

Every time we meet, we exchange experiences.

Thailand is experienced in democracy and has passed so many things.

When we are close like brothers, we open up and share the experience.

The good things in this era contributed to the changes in Myanmar’s democracy.

We are scratching our heads on “good things,” but guess that “good things” for these military thugs are probably bad things for the rest of us. For example, when asked about “problems in Rakhine state, ” he answered:

I would rather not talk about it. But I will only say that I will do my best to take care of the problem. Furthermore, in Myanmar, there is no ethnic group called Rohingya. They are Bengalis who came from somewhere else. We will follow the laws.

That last bit is also among the lies peddled by Thailand’s military dictatorship.

Updated: The Koh Tao “conspirator” revealed

29 12 2015

A couple of days ago we posted on the quite ridiculous claims by various members of the military dictatorship that “someone” was behind large demonstrations in Myanmar against the death penalty handed down to two Burmese migrant workers for the murder of two British tourists.

THAILAND-POLITICS-CORRUPTION-THAKSINNow it is revealed – and who is surprised – who the balmy army thinks is responsible. No, not the United States, but Thaksin Shinawatra. For the jittery and conspiratorial dimwits running Thailand, the devil in Dubai is behind everything they don’t like and that they fear.

Yellow-shirted, royalist media is alight with these claims, and it is clear that the generals buy the nonsensical claims. In one report in the Bangkok Post it is stated: “Myanmar’s armed forces chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing … asked Thailand for a ‘review of the evidence’ against the men, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on Sunday…”.

We hear the question, “So what?” After all, isn’t Gen Min Aung Hlaing a buddy of General Prayuth Chan-ocha? Isn’t that the two of them embracing in the photo, just a couple of months after Prayuth’s coup? When Prayuth was greeted by Min Aung Hlaing with a bear hug, he was delighted when the Burmese military boss “praised Thailand’s ruling junta, saying it was right to seize power…”.

Fascist hugAt the same time, Min Aung Hlaing claims to be like a son of the great old political meddler and palace posterior polisher General Prem Tinsulanonda, President of the king’s Privy Council.

Prem reportedly “had close ties with Min Aung Hlaing’s father when Prem was the Thai Army commander in the late 1970s.” The Nation reports that when Min Aung Hlaing met Prem in 2012 he asked the old soldier “to adopt him…”. Prem loves him so much that he “gave him gifts that included a portrait of HM the King with Privy Council members.” The Myanmar general, sounding like a Thai general, has been heard babbling about the sufficiency economy and how the 1988 uprising in Myanmar was a threat to the nation.Prem and fascist friend

According to the Post, before the coup last year, “Gen Min Aung Hlaing regularly visited both former Supreme Commander Tanasak Patimapragorn and Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was then serving as army chief.”

Despite all of this, the devil has been identified. As the Post puts it:

A source said Gen Min Aung Hlaing has close ties to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. A clip in which Thaksin was in conversation with former defence minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa in Hong Kong was noted as proof…. In the clip, Thaksin was heard saying: “If there are any problems, you can tell Min Aung Hlaing. We are close [friends]…”.

For the royalist conspiracy theorists, it has to be Thaksin at work. Forget all the other “evidence.” Any anti-junta activity must be motivated by Thaksin, and the dopey general seem to believe that if it wasn’t for Thaksin and his money, they really would have 99% support in Thailand and everywhere else in the world.

These dictators are delusional.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the military dictatorship is attempting to discredit both Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party over protests in Myanmar. Meanwhile, “National Security Council secretary-general Thawip Netniyom Tuesday said the NSC is looking into claims that the Myanmar protests were instigated by others to disrupt the government’s work.” To do this, Thawip said “he had instructed intelligence agencies to work with the Thai embassy in Myanmar and foreign intelligence agencies to gather information on the matter.” It seems that the Thai embassy is spying on Myanmar citizens. The is no end to the dimwittedness of this lot nor the madness of the royalist conspiracy makers.

Further updated: No sense and nonsense

27 12 2015

When the military are in charge, a new “logic” takes hold. Hierarchy, impunity and power lead not just to arrogance but to some quite nonsensical media events.

For example, just a few days ago we had the military junta telling the world that it had 98-99% support for almost everything it did. No sensible person believes this horse manure, except for those in the junta who thought it a great idea to disseminate such claims.

Adding to the view that Thailand is in the control of dangerous dimwits, the police have piled cartloads of organic, brown fertilizer onto the junta’s compost. Sadly, the story at the Bangkok Post is about the death sentences handed out to two Burmese migrant workers for the murder of two British tourists.

Appeals are pending and there’s been plenty of reporting about police incompetence, torture and more. The government in Myanmar has expressed concerns about the case both before and since the the verdict, and there have been demonstrations of hundreds and perhaps thousands in Myanmar.

So what do the police in Thailand do? They hold a media event and make extraordinarily daft claims.

They say that the “protests against the death sentences handed down in the Koh Tao murders might be politically motivated and have ill intentions.” Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang said the “protests in the Koh Tao case were suspicious.”

Clearly not a genius, Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan isn’t reported to have explained what the “motivations” might have been, what kind of “ill intentions” were in play or why the demonstrations were “suspicious.”

Despite lacking explanation and apparently without a shred of evidence, Piyaphan declared that “[s]ome groups” were using the verdict “as an opportunity” and he warned that “general people should not fall victim to the movement or let the issue be politicised…”.  He “warned that the issue could have an impact on international relations.”

PPT doubt the policeman has no real idea who he is threatening. Perhaps it is the international media. It could be the Myanmar government and people, stirring so-called historical enmity. Whoever it is is, Piyaphan is doing his bit to convince the rest of the world that Thailand is indeed in the hands of dangerous dimwits.

Update 1: As if to prove the point we made above, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has also released a similar bilious nonsense. Reported as “visibly angry,” The Dictator “lashed out on Monday at protesters who took to the streets of Yangon…”. Yes, he was criticizing protests in another country. He said “critics should respect the verdict and that Thailand’s justice system would not bow to public pressure.” Maybe he can have them arrested for sedition or lese majeste.

Update 2: Angry police have again declared – despite denials from the Myanmar government – that there is an instigator of protest or maybe more. The police chief seemed befuddled and declared that protest instigators might be in Thailand, saying, “In Thailand police are preventing it [protest]…”, adding:

Police are looking for the people who instigated it. I ordered all units related to security, especially the Special Branch division, to find the groups that are behind the demonstrations by Myanmar people … admitting he had “no idea” who the supposed instigators are or if they are even in Thailand.

Keystone cops.

Thailand and Burma

22 02 2013

Readers of PPT from way back will recall that we sometimes posted on the “let’s-move-our-pollution” Dawei investment project by well-connected and royal-linked Thai industrial developers congregated around Italian-Thai and its boss Premchai Karnasuta. A recent post with back links was here.

Those following this story will find a recent report at The Irrawaddy of interest. It says, amongst other things:

The Burmese government had clearly gone cold on Dawei—which is closer to Bangkok than Rangoon by 300 km—when it refused to approve a huge 4,000 megawatt coal-fueled electricity generating plant at the site for ITD back in February 2012.

By then, Chinese government money was already building an oil transhipment terminal on the central coast at Kyaukphyu, another sleepy Burmese seaside town where gas from the Shwe field out in the Bay of Bengal will also come ashore….

“The fundamental problem with the Dawei project is that its main beneficiary is always going to be Bangkok,” regional energy industries analyst-consultant Collin Reynolds told The Irrawaddy on Feb. 19. “The Thais want it primarily as a crude oil transhipment point much the same as the Chinese are achieving with their Kyaukphyu set up.

“Thailand also sees Dawei as a place where it could expand its petrochemicals industry, which is stymied on the edge of Bangkok because of environmental and health concerns.

Killing Cambodians

16 08 2012

PPT has seen this story in a couple of places, and this one not one of our usual sources, being Hardwood Floors News, which sent us back to the Bangkok Post for the story that the various Thai border forces had “shot dead 38 Cambodians in the first half of this year for [allegedly] illegally crossing the border to log for valuable timber…”. Apparently a further 10 had been wounded. The figures seem to come from “the Cambodian authorities.”

Lat year the reported number of deaths, from the same source, was “around 11 alleged Cambodian loggers were reported killed over a 12-month period…”. The border is poorly demarcated, and another source says 15 in 2011 (see below).

The report states that: “Cambodian loggers are routinely caught sneaking into Thailand, often in search of rosewood, which fetches thousands of dollars per cubic metre and is in strong demand in China and Vietnam.” Switch across to the Burma border, and it is Thais in trouble for similar encroachment, but the 92 arrested in Burma weren’t shot on sight. We can’t help wondering what the Thai Army’s role is in all of this and asking what the difference is on the two borders. Is is a business dispute on both sides?

The report cited above notes that “Cambodian officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have repeatedly urged Thailand to arrest trespassers instead of firing at them, while Bangkok says its troops are acting in self-defence against armed Cambodians.” While perhaps arming encroachers on the Burma side? It is all very murky.

The Hardwood Floors story also had a link to a Cambodian human rights site that included this statement, from several months ago. In part the NGO stated:

The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) is deeply concerned about the use of disproportionate force against Cambodian citizens crossing the border to perform illicit logging activities in Thailand. Eleven Cambodian loggers have lost their lives in the last two months, in what may amount to extrajudicial killings. Cambodian authorities must urge Thailand to investigate these and previous cases and stop using disproportionate force against persons breaching logging or border crossing regulations….

ADHOC is concerned that they may have been shot on sight, which would amount to extrajudicial killings. Thai authorities did not launch thorough investigations into these and previous cases. Investigations are necessary so that the facts can be clearly established and evidence can be provided to support allegations that Thai soldiers were fired upon first and that they were acting in retaliation.

ADHOC reminds Thai authorities that they are under obligation to use a proportionate level of force to impose Thai laws and regulations. The use of fire arms is only justified as a last resort, when law enforcement officials face direct threats to their lives. The obligation to respect the right to life entails an obligation to provide law enforcement and military officials with adequate training, as well as an obligation to punish those responsible for excessive use of force. Cambodian citizens illegally crossing the border or caught performing illicit logging activities must be arrested and tried or deported to Cambodia in accordance with Thai law.

That seems reasonable. The Thai Army, though, is seldom reasonable.

Kill the undemocratic constitution

13 07 2012

At The Irrawaddy a day or so ago, there was a story that has a Thailand ring about it. The main point is that:

the one issue that surely stands as the most important if Burma is finally to takes its rightful place as an equal in the community of nations. That issue is the 2008 Constitution—or rather, the need to scrap it in favor of a genuinely democratic charter.

That constitution, like Thailand’s 2007 version, was put in place by the military and was meant to entrench the military’s political power. Thailand’s version was meant to entrench the power of the conservative royalist elite.

In neither country has the rigged constitution been unchallenged and voters have been persistent in showing their desire for something more than the conservatives want to allow.

The article states that “[w]ith the exception of this handful of excessively privileged individuals, however, everyone else … knows that the country needs sweeping change, not just a fine-tuning of the established order.” In the article the business community is mentioned. In Thailand, the desire for change is broader, as it is in Burma.

The author concludes that “the only way to put power where it belongs—in the hands of the people—is by completely rewriting the Constitution.” That could easily be a comment on Thailand.

Two border tales

8 12 2011

Readers may be interested on two reports related to Thailand’s borders:

1) The Irrawaddy has a report on the Thai industrial and port development project at Tavoy/Dawei in Burma. PPT has mentioned this Italian-Thai corporation-led development previously, here, here, here and here.

This report is of a visit to the area by a “fact-finding mission” from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery. Beerawat Dheeraprasart, FER’s chairman said “he is worried about the environmental impact of building the massive seaport.”

FER reported “that the Thai Investment Board has offered a substantial sum of money to build the Tavoy Deep Seaport and Industrial Zone.” FER worried about issues of local participation and environmental impact and compared it to the troubled Map Ta Phut Industrial Zone in Rayong, although the Burma project is said to be “eight times bigger than …[Map Ta Phut].”

FER sees the investment in Tavoy as an effort by the Thai investors as an attempt to flee the troubled Map Ta Phut project.

2) The other report is on the violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier in 2011 by the International Crisis Group. The report, which also reflects on ASEAN’s role, is titled Waging Peace: ASEAN and the Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict (the link is to the Executive Summary, from where the PDF of the report can be downloaded).

The ICG argues that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) used the issue of Cambodia’s attempt to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site “to whip up nationalist sentiments against the subsequent Thaksin [Shinawatra]-back[ed] government and Cambodia in 2008, halting border demarcation and setting off the deadly bilateral confrontation.”

The role of ASEAN is said to break “new ground by deciding to dispatch observers to monitor a conflict between member states.” Well, kind of, for the deployment of border observers has yet to take place, mainly because Thailand’s Army is obdurate, a point noted in the report.

An update on Italian-Thai’s Burma venture

23 09 2011

PPT readers may recall earlier post we had on the well-connected Italian-Thai company’s huge investment in Tavoy/Dawei in Burma here, here and here.

The Irrawaddy has a useful update, explaining that the “Karen National Union (KNU) has banned all vehicles owned by the Italian-Thai Development (ITD) Company from using a road linking the Thai province of Kanchanaburi to Burma’s southern seaport of Tavoy in order to halt work on a controversial project in the area…”.

The KNU wants development projects to abide by international laws and demands that an adequate environmental impact assessment be carried out “before the project is allowed to continue…”.

Apparently the KNU has “been blocking vehicles carrying ITD employees since July…”.

Further updated: Screwing refugees

12 04 2011

PPT has posted many times on the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s reprehensible approach to border-crossers and refugees, that has included several instances of forces repatriation. There has been far too little international attention to this issue and only weak attempts to condemn quite inhumane actions.

Now, however, this government has decided that it can solve its refugee “problem” in one easy, inhumane and arguably illegal action.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post, “Thailand plans to close all refugee camps along its western border and send more than 100,000 Burmese back home now that a constitutional government has been installed in Burma.” Only a government that thinks a constitution is just a bit of paper that can be torn up at will will believe that Burma has a “constitutional government” in any meaningful sense.

The Post states that “National Security Council Chief Thawil Pliensri said the closure of the refugee camps was discussed at the agency’s meeting yesterday chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.” As we have said previously, this reprehensible approach to a weak and abused population is Abhisit’s. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is well and truly on board with this inhumane activity, having discussed and apparently agreed it with Burmese government leaders.

Thailand currently has about 140,000 Burmese refugees in several camps on the Western border with Burma. They lodge people who have generally fled fighting and political persecution in Burma under the military regime there. Many have resided in the camps for several years and some for two decades.

Kitty McKinsey, a “spokeswoman for the UN Relief Agency in Bangkok, said it was too soon to send the refugees home.” She added: “We have been working very well with the Thai government and we do understand that they don’t want the refugees to stay here forever…. But the solution is not forcing people to go back to a country that is still dangerous.”

Foreign Affairs spokesman Thani Thongpakdi indicated that the Thai government would seek more involvement in the camps, now said to be managed by foreign non-government organisations, so that they could “prepare” camp residents for their return. PPT anticipates that such a return would again be forced and would involve the military.

This Abhisit government appears to have a very close and comfortable relationship with the fake constitutional regime in Burma. It seems they understand each other as sibling regimes. PPT would hope that the international outcry would be loud and long. The international community needs to acknowledge and label Teflon Mark and his regime as human rights abusers.

Update 1: Worth reading this post at Thai Intelligent News for more on this policy and this interpretation at Asia Correspondent.

Update 2: More reporting on this decision here and here.

Korn on military spending but not electoral buying power

7 03 2011

For those who enjoyed the first part of Asia Provocateur’s interview with Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, the second installment is now available.It is a long interview, so PPT just highlights bits and pieces from Andrew Spooner’s blog.

On food security and prices and the challenge for the Democrat Party: “From my perspective the high cost of living is a big issue…. Actually, the people who are hurting more are the urban dwellers and consumers, who don’t have the benefits derived from higher food prices. That is problematic as it is also the Democrat Party’s support base. So it is a challenge for us.”

Korn adds that the government has “scaled back on our spending programmes, which is consistent with our plan to achieve budget balance in five years.” PPT wonder what impact the huge pre-election spending is having on the budget bottom line. Korn speaks about the “oil fund” saying that, when the interview was conducted it had a surplus of 27 billion baht. Estimates are now that it will be drained by April.

Korn goes on to mention the government’s Pracha Wiwat program, saying “… all of it is address the quality of life issues that have been raised as a reason for social division and to strengthen the grassroots economy…”. He also comments on social spending spurring demand. The unmentionable is influencing the election outcome.

Like Abhisit, Korn likes to claim: “We did something that wasn’t done before.” IOn this case he is referring to flood relief, where he says: “We wanted to ensure that everything was received by the individual recipients with no leakage along the way.” Maybe Korn has forgotten this. And what could be done about corruption when the Minister doesn’t know the figure for this huge program?

Referring to the reported level of investment in the Pracha Wiwat programme of 2 billion baht (US$65.6m) a year…

That’s totally wrong. It’s more. Well, that’s right for the first year anyway.

Well the Bangkok Post state that it is 2 billion baht.

Okay, okay. Roughly.

Spooner then asks this really neat question:

And I am referring to the level of Pracha Wiwat investment in this next question as it seems quite a surprising state of affairs to an outsider such as myself when set against payments in other areas. For example, when we consider the amount of money put aside to spend on Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda’s new cavalry unit in Khon Kaen, which costs 70 billion baht (US$3.3bn), equivalent to 35 years of the Pracha Wiwat welfare programme, and a military project that some commentators consider to be something of an unnecessary vanity project, I must wonder, and speaking very much as an outsider on this issue, but also having observed other grandiose spending, is military spending out of control in Thailand? And, given all the reforms and changes you are talking about, when are Thais going to be able to ensure they get the best value for money from their military? Setting 2 billion baht against the military spending seems very small.

Korn gets back to his comment above:

Pracha Wiwat is just a sliver of what we do in terms of welfare. Income guarantee for farmers is over 40 billion baht. Free education is another 30 to 40 billion baht. We pay 500 baht to elderly people who don’t have a pension that, again, is tens of billions of baht.

So that’s annually up to 150 billion baht plus tens of billions to the elderly. Korn gives these figures as a defense of the claim that welfare amounts to a sliver of what the military has been paid.

Korn then turns to the military part of the question. The Finance Minister states: “I have no idea about the Khon Kaen thing.” This would seem to imply that the military gets its piles of money and uses it with no oversight from the government.

He adds:

The less money we need to spend on the military the better…. But … of course we need to have a military, then they need to be properly equipped. And on that basis we need to be willing to spend money to ensure that we’re getting the best value from our military.

Yes, Minister, but how can you get “best value for money” if you have “no idea” what they are doing with their budget? And what of failed zeppelins, “lost” arms, GT 200s and so on?

Finally Spooner  asks about Map Ta Phut, environment and development. Korn essentially says on Map Ta Phut: “We solved it in a timely manner and in a very democratic manner…”. PPT isn’t at all sure the issue is “solved.”

Strikingly, Korn adds:: “The reason the country is spending quite a lot of money in helping Myanmar (Burma) develop, for example at the new port city of Tavoy, is because that is where our industrial growth is likely to be in the future and not within Thai borders.” While it is understood that this is Thai policy, it hasn’t been so clearly expressed. Move polluting and dangerous industries to other, neighboring countries. Charming idea.

It is a very useful interview and Korn seems pretty relaxed. We wish he’d been asked about elections and government spending.

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