When the military is on top XXI

3 05 2018

A theme of our now long series of posts on When the Military is on Top has been the embedding of double standards. One set of rules for the junta and its partners and another for those not connected with the regime or its partners seem never-ending.

The latest example is related to land. Since it seized power the junta has emphasized “illegal” uses of “state” land. We use the inverted commas to mark the fact that some of this land was, several decades ago, allocated to state agencies, institutions and people as part of the military’s counterinsurgency operations.

So when the military becomes involved in expelling owners and smashing down resorts in areas like Khao Khor in Petchabun, one might ask how it is that the Royal Forest Department and the the Internal Security Operations Command co-operate now to “take legal action against all 135 mountainous resorts suspected of encroaching on a land plot in Khao Kho district within three months.”

No doubt some of these resorts are the plaything of the rich, but so much of the land in the area was allocated to farmers who were encouraged into the area after the battles with the communists there in the 1970s. That those farmers sold their land decades later is a reflection of ISOC’s 1970s policies never having recognized the property rights of the villagers it encouraged and even transported to the area.

The mistreatment of land protesters is reflective of similar processes that began decades ago as, also as part of a broad counter-communism policy, the state commodified land, allocated land and titles of various levels of tenure and then saw business people take advantage of this land market.

The Bangkok Post refers to the “temporary detention of land rights activists in Chiang Mai and Lamphun by security authorities [as] disgraceful.” While this is rightly seen as ” intimidation” by “soldiers and policemen were dispatched to deal with the growing disgruntlement of ordinary people who were merely trying to make their voices heard. But using force to shut people up is a barbaric tactic that will only intensify public displeasure against the military rulers,” the roots of the problems of land in the policies of previous military regimes should not be neglected.

The double standards are obvious when the judiciary’s luxury housing construction project in Chiang Mai is considered. Sanitsuda Ekachai makes the all too obvious points in her op-ed. As she says, representatives of the regime and the judiciary have loudly claimed that: “People and the forest can live together in harmony…”. But there are people and there are others.

The people who can live in harmony with forest are “good” people and the rest are the untrustworthy and the unworthy.

Propagandize like its 1969

11 10 2015

We know that nothing the Thai military does should cause any surprise, but a report at The Nation was, frankly, quite startling for its throwback quality. It could have been from the anti-communist days when the military was operating counterinsurgency programs across the country.

The commander of the Second Army Area, Lt-Gen. Thawat Sookplang proudly declares that he has met his target and propagandized provided “correct political understanding … to people in 20 provinces in the Northeast…”.

He declares that he has had “good feedback” on this. Thawat stated that there was “little or no opposition.” What did he expect? “Peasants” complaining? Heck, his guys are the ones with guns and who imprison dissenters.

The Second Army is reported to have completed “the mission through the Centre for Reconciliation and Reform, sending staff to talk with people of different political opinions.”

Interestingly, Thawat trumpeted that he “looked forward to using this approach to explain the upcoming charter draft…”.

We get the picture. The military is going to control, cajole and threaten as it did in 2007, but with more intent and vigor.

Another piece of work by Thawat’s military oppressors seems more up-to-date, and involves plagiarism of Thaksin Shinawatra.

This is the “One Tambon One Million Baht” project, which aims to “ease the impact of drought through the distribution of Bt1 million per affected district.” He says that: “People are content with the measure…”. Some of them may also be happy with recent rains.

Corruption and the military

18 02 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation (18 February 2010) sees a good side to the GT200 scandal, covered extensively by various newspapers and Bangkok Pundit. Pravit thinks the “GT200 hoax is forcing scientists to encourage Thais to become more rational.” He thinks that “superstition trumps logic in this country.”

He asks: “How else can one explain Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and forensics department chief Pornthip Rojanasunand insisting on using the so-called bomb detectors even though a Science Ministry test had proved that they are basically useless?”

Perhaps another way of looking at the issue is to think that corruption trumps all. In the Thai military, getting a snout firmly lodged in the trough is the most important task for all good generals.

The GT200 and related device purchases have cost Thailand of probably close to 1 billion baht, and that’s not counting the cost of deaths, human rights abuses and harassment that have derived from the use of a divining rod.

Wassana Nanuam (The Bangkok Post, 18 February 2010) points out that army commander Anupong Paojindawas the one who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The devices are mainly used in the south where Wassana says the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) now employs about 60,000 personnel in the South. The army has put in about 40,000 soldiers from 55 battalions around the country. The budget for the southern operation is more than 100 billion baht a year. A lot of the money has gone into the procurement of weapons.

She then turns to the army’s recent 350 million baht purchase of an advanced zeppelin which the army has named Sky Dragon.” The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. Wassana explains that the airship is the brainchild of Gen Anupong and his second-in-command, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. They envision the airship as a sky-based surveillance and command station.” Leaving aside obvious questions about this assumption, the problem is that the airship can’t do what it is meant to, and there has even been trouble getting it into the air. The airship has seepage holes and it initially costs 2.8 million baht to inflate and then 280,000 baht a month to top-up. There has been considerable criticism.

The army decided to put on a show two weeks ago that was meant to deflect criticism. Thai PBS dutifully carried a long and generally positive report on this show. However, even the show flight was a failure and, according to Wassana, it remains in a hanger.

General Anupong had reportedly agreed to purchase three airships for the army. Wassana asks: is it a bigger sham than the GT200?” Maybe she meant “scam”?

At Bangkok Pundit on 6 February 2010, a comment was added by Reg, encouraging Bangkok Pundit to look into the zeppelin case. “Reg” stated: Why this machine and not drones as used almost everywhere else for this kind of recon work? What’s the track record of this model? What’s the price paid elsewhere? Have you seen dirigibles used in other insurgency situations? Seems like there’s a smell there as soon as it is wheeled out. A quick Google seems to suggest that this is a Thailand first (a manned airship for counter-insurgency).

Correspondent “Reg” then turns to the company involved and its website. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers .

Reg concludes: “I remain suspicious, but maybe that’s just because everything the military buys involves commissions etc. But, hey, you might want to congratulate the RTA for a 10 million dollar gamble that might show the world of counter-insurgency the way forward via a penny company.

PPT agrees with Reg; there is a smell and the odor is money and corruption.

On a broader note, these are just examples of what happens when a military is politicized, when it runs a coup, and then has its budget increased by leaps and bounds. This is why there are so many very wealthy generals. This is what happens when a government owes its position to the military. The generals are in charge and they are hauling in the loot as fast as they can.

There are plenty of other examples. Just today the navy is reported to want two used submarines. Maybe they can dock them next to the used and idle aircraft carrier they bought several years ago, with planes that no longer fly.

Forget superstition, the beliefs driving these events are power, arrogance and filthy lucre.

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