No shame Abhisit

17 09 2011

A reader points out a report in the Bangkok Post, where former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now leader of the trounced Democrat Party in opposition, who demands that the new government, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, clarify its position on Cambodia.

It seems Abhisit thinks the government should have a policy closer to that of his administration when he criticizes Yingluck’s government for allowing

Phnom Penh to unilaterally express its stance on sensitive issues – for example, the withdrawal of troops from the Preah Vihear area, its reaction tor the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the ancient Hindu temple, and the release of the two Thais – Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon – imprisoned in Phnom Penh for spying and illegal entry.

We guess that Abhisit is serious in making his claim. We can see that he feels no embarrassment in his position. It seems that being born into an elite family and schooled at upper crust English schools and universities teaches one immense self-confidence and arrogance.

Abhisit’s own “clear position” when he was in charge meant continuous conflict with Cambodia. Looking back through his time in power, we find that at the beginning, Abhisit and his colleagues were only too willing to hitch the Democrat Party to the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s ultra-nationalist ranting on the Preah Vihear temple and its grounds. Despite some mutual slagging off, that position held. Abhisit seemed more intent on talking peace with PAD than in dealing with a sometimes hot war on the border. He never seemed very keen to reign in PAD’s militant efforts on Cambodia.

Abhisit-era cluster bomb (Photo credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor)

The main reason for this position was that Abhisit and his Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya recognized that Hun Sen was sympathetic to Thaksin Shinawatra. In their simplistic view of the world, support for Thaksin meant rejection by the government, anger and threat. It was as dumb as that. This personalistic approach to foreign policy meant: letting Thailand’s racist nationalists off the leash; recalling diplomats; royalists speaking badly of Hun Sen; jingoistic militarism; illegal claims to “ownership” of Preah Vihear by government ministers; the capture of a Thai spy; and Abhisit sending his own spies into Cambodian territory. And we are leaving out the short and sharp military skirmishes on the border that included the Thai use of cluster bombs, several border evacuations and an unknown number of deaths.

Laughing at Abhisit? (Photo credit: Bangkok Post)

In all of this, the only consistency seems to be a Pavlovian Abhisit jumping up and down each time Thaksin is mentioned in the context of Cambodia.

And, oh yes, Abhisit also managed to have his deputy engage in secret talks with the Cambodians on economic zone border treaties….

Exhibiting his usual consistency on this matter, Abhisit yesterday blamed Thaksin. Yingluck, presumably being inconsistent in Abhisit’s eyes,

posted a message on her Facebook page, saying Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to hold formal and open talks about their disputed maritime area and that Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised to help the two jailed yellow-shirt supporters….

She added:

Following the visit to Cambodia yesterday, a new era in Thai-Cambodian relations has begun and this relationship will the foundation for development and cooperation for the benefit of the people in the two countries.

Goodness, she seems to be taking a rational and cool-hearted approach to Cambodia! Presumably Abhisit would rather dust off the cluster bombs and get the artillery going again. PAD and the xenophobes might applaud; few others would.





With a major update: War not peace

20 02 2011

The ultra-nationalist, royalist right-wing represented by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the Thai Patriot Network and the New Politics Party are essentially calling for more war with Cambodia. These groups oppose the current government’s ceasefire because it poses a “threat” to “Thai territory.” PAD called the truce “dangerous.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was opposed to peace. In a clear statement of the realities of Thai politics, the army negotiated a truce themselves.

Update 1: This perspective from Cambodia on the truce is worth reading.

Update 2: To get an idea of the scrambling that the Abhisit government is engaged in while dealing with the seemingly independent army, see the story in the Bangkok Post headlined “PM denies truce signed.” Struggling to deal with his ultra-nationalist allies-cum-opponents and the uncontrolled military, Abhisit “denies a ceasefire agreement has been signed with Cambodia.” This is despite the military’s statements, widely reported in the media domestically and internationally.

Abhisit

He means a comprehensive treaty while the military has negotiated a truce. It seems that Abhisit is not consulted by the military and has little idea what is actually happening. That’s the logical result when you are the little brother in a relationship with the military and palace.

Kasit

Meanwhile, the completely hopeless Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya “said yesterday the proposed permanent ceasefire was unnecessary.”

The Post states that a “delegation led by army chief-of-staff Daopong Rattanasuwan was reported on Saturday to have signed a ceasefire agreement with Phnom Penh, whose team was headed by deputy army commander Hun Manet, the son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.”

Kasit, like his premier, had to deny this: ” Kasit insisted the meeting on Saturday was not about negotiations.  It was merely a discussion between military authorities and the results would be referred to higher authorities for a decision on what next step to take.  The minister said no agreement had been reached and there were no binding effects from the talks.”

Remember that it is PAD and the TPN that wants no truce. Kasit and Abhisit seems to be pandering to the jingoists or are in that camp themselves. Whatever the case, the government seems well out of the loop on the military’s actions.

They are playing catch-up with a military that seems to be deliberately demonstrating the hopelessness of the current government.





Woof, woof. Things royal and political

11 02 2011

Veteran reporter Hamish McDonald has a great little story at The Age in Melbourne, where he refers to “Thai politics becomes a dog’s dinner.” We thought we’d just put the whole story, together with the cartoon. Of course, it draws on the Wikileaks cable of a few days ago (see here and here) and several earlier leaked cables:

Military promotions are closely watched in Thai political circles, understandably given the coups periodically mounted in Bangkok. How then to evaluate the news that one Foo Foo, a miniature poodle belonging to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has been elevated to the rank of Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force?

We learn this in a cable from the former US ambassador to Thailand, Ralph Boyce, reporting his farewell calls on the royal family at the end of 2009, brought to us courtesy of WikiLeaks.

Foo Foo had attended a jazz festival gala dinner with his master, ”dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts”, Boyce said. ”At one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own. The Air Chief Marshal’s antics drew the full attention of the 600-plus audience members, and remain the talk of the town to this day.”

Royal doings assume more importance in Thailand than here. The king takes an active interest in government formation, as well as being a semi-sacred figure in the official Buddhist hierarchy. The current monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been on the throne more than 60 years. His prestige is immense; public affection enormous. But at 83 he has been ailing after a reported stroke and makes only rare public appearances.

The Crown Prince is viewed with misgivings, after a tearaway youth that doesn’t seem to have ended at 58. His behaviour continues to raise eyebrows, especially when a video circulated last year of a poolside birthday party for Foo Foo, at which his Royal Consort, Srirasmi, sat bare breasted.

The monarchy has meanwhile become political ammunition in the battle between the ”Red Shirt” supporters of the populist former telecom tycoon turned prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and the ”Yellow Shirt” backers of a more traditional elitism who wave the royal colours.

Other US diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks suggest the royal house itself is also somewhat divided. Three of the most senior officials close to the king – the former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the Privy Council and a former army general, Anand Panyarachun, another former prime minister and air chief marshal Siddhi Savetsila – were quoted by the new US ambassador Eric John last January as saying they prefer the king’s popular daughter, Princess Sirindhorn, as successor.

The three elders were worried by Thaksin’s cultivation of the Crown Prince, by paying off his debts and providing a luxurious new house in Bangkok. Vajiralongkorn preferred to spend time in Munich with his favourite consort, rather than with his official wife and children in Thailand, and had kept a succession of air hostesses as his mistresses.

The ambassador quoted Anand as saying the Crown Prince would succeed his father according to the law, but there could be ”complicating factors” if the prince proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions.

“After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour,” John reported. But no one could raise ”such a delicate topic” with the King.

The revelations can’t be discussed openly, but are causing turmoil. Thaksin was removed by military coup in 2006, tacitly backed by King Bhumipol, but his Red Shirt backers and his banned Thai Rak Thai party keep bobbing back. They are especially strong in the Thai rural hinterland, where Thaksin’s extension of welfare broke an old pattern of patronage used by Bangkok elites.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, appointed as Prime Minister in December 2008 with backing from the Yellow Shirts after some opaque Constitutional Court manoeuvres, wants to hold elections this year to reinforce his legitimacy. But there is no guarantee he will win.

Meanwhile, authorities use a new computer crime law combined with an old lese majeste law to silence debate about the alleged misuse of royal power. Nearly 200 people have been arrested in the past four years, and lengthy jail terms of up to 18 years have been given.

The atmosphere has darkened since the appointment of General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new chief of the Royal Thai Army last October, when he declared the army’s main purpose was ”protecting the country’s sovereignty and the monarchy”. He followed up by warning that the army would intensify arrests for anti-monarchy postings by Red Shirts. ”Do not whine, because we have warned you many times,” he said. ”From our grandparents’ generation down to the present, we have been looked after by the monarchy, no matter which king.”

The political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak noted in the Bangkok Post this week that Prayuth was indicating ”internal challenges that he has not elaborated” and ”may have unnecessarily drawn a line in the sand and defined the fault line of Thai politics around the monarchy.” Prayuth had gathered around him in top posts his old colleagues from military academy and the 21st Infantry Regiment, known as the ”Queen’s Guards” (the Crown Prince being Queen Sirikit’s favourite). Such concentrations have led to coups.

This month’s flare-up between Thai and Cambodian border troops over a disputed Hindu temple is also the result of Bangkok politics, according to Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Yellow Shirt activists crossed into Cambodian-held territory and got themselves arrested to create a nationalist wave for the election and paint Thaksin, who has been hosted during his exile by the Cambodian leader Hung [sic] Sen, as a traitor.

Meanwhile, if at the Crown Prince’s place, be careful about dogs. Chatting to the consort Srirasmi at the jazz dinner, US envoy Boyce recalled King Bhumipol talking animatedly to George Bush about his dog Thongdaeng. ”I mentioned having heard Princess Sirindhorn had a large dog, and I asked Srirasmi if she knew the breed,” Boyce reported. ”Srirasmi appeared immediately to freeze up; her body language changed, and she said curtly that she knew nothing of Sirindhorn’s affairs.”





Further updated: War? Coup?

10 02 2011

The Phnom Penh Post has a perspective on the “border clashes” that is a little different from that in the mainstream Bangkok media.

It seems that Hun Sen has “accused Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of war crimes, saying Cambodia has to prepare a ‘long-term’ strategy in its ‘struggle’ with Thailand. Speaking at Chaktomuk Theatre today, Hun Sen described the recent clashes as a ‘war’ necessitating the involvement of the United Nations Security Council.” He said: “This is a real war. It is not a clash…”.

Hun Sen declared: “Thailand is making this war, not Cambodia, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must take responsibility for these war crimes…. The shelling at the temple and pagoda are one among the war crimes.” He added: “To struggle with Thailand is not one day, one year, [but] many years.”

Hun Sen reaffirmed earlier Cambodian government claims that Thailand deployed cluster bombs during the skirmishes: “They launched a cluster bomb. Is that a clash? This is the real war, it exchanged many heavy artillery…”. Related, the government’s Cambodian Mine Action Centre “released photos today of cluster munitions allegedly discovered in Kantuot commune, in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district.”

The report states that the Thai military has denied the use of cluster bombs in this conflict and cites an authority as having “cautioned against taking reports from the Cambodian government on the issue at face value.”

The report adds that “Thailand is known to hold stockpiles of cluster munitions, according to the advocacy group Cluster Munitions Coalition, which said last year that Bangkok had pledged that it would not use the weapons but had declined to sign the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions outlawing their use.” Cambodia isn’t a signatory either and it is unclear if it has a stockpile of such weapons.

Thai army denials on the cluster bomb allegations are here, where Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd says it was the Cambodians who used cluster bombs. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban says the events are not war but border clashes between militaries. He also reiterated that the Thai government views any attempt at international mediation as “a Cambodian diplomatic strategy.” Eventually, it will be asked why Thailand is so resistant to any international mediation.

Update 1: The LA Times has a useful account of events at Preah Vihear.

Update 2: Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online states:

Despite the international dimension, the conflict is being driven largely by Thai domestic politics. Because Abhisit did not give the order to open fire, some see the armed exchanges and immediate breakdown of a ceasefire declared on Saturday as yet another indication that he lacks command control over the military. The hostilities and protests come at a time some believe Thailand’s top military brass seek a national security-related pretense to stall Abhisit’s early election plan….

Under those pressures, the once coherent storylines that have defined Thailand’s six-year-old political conflict are fast fragmenting as establishment forces once united against Thaksin [Shinawatra] now compete to steer the country’s future political direction….

[S]ome have speculated that the military has swung back towards the PAD with the transition from outgoing army commander General Anupong [Paojinda] to new chief Prayuth [Chan-ocha] as a way to pressure Abhisit out of his early election plan. With the reappearance of the PAD on Bangkok’s streets, this time as ultra-nationalists in defense of Thai territory, local newspapers have been awash in unexplained coup rumors. (T-shirts for sale at the PAD’s protest advertise for a “civil-military coup”.)

Abhisit has already backed away from the April “promise.” Crispin continues:

An election win would lessen Abhisit’s reliance on the military, which many believe cobbled together his coalitions, and quiet opposition charges that his administration lacks democratic legitimacy because his party placed second, not first, at the 2007 polls. Until then, however, expect more bombshells on the border and rally cries from the streets.





Kasit disoriented

9 02 2011

The Nation reports on an appearance by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya at a “seminar on Thai-Cambodian relationship at Parliament held by the Senate committee on foreign affairs.”

Kasit went on the attack. Notoriously unprepared for public appearances, Kasit speak off the cuff and, it seems, with little thought. This time he also seemed remarkably disoriented about which country he was attacking.

He “called Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen a bully boy who launched attacks against Thailand with hope to seize control of the disputed plot near Preah Vihear Temple.” Of course, it has been the Thai side under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and at the urging of ultra-nationalists of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. For a recent account of the PAD position versus that of the current government, download this largish PDF, in Thai.

Kasit claimed that the “conflicts between the two countries happened because the Cambodian government incited hatred among its people towards Thailand. Kasit said the Cambodian government told its people that Thailand had been bullying Cambodia during the past 600 and 700 years.” Is he confusing Thai school textbooks and PAD’s rhetoric with that from Cambodia?

Kasit appeared to reject international intervention, saying that “Thailand should have learnt a lesson from Cambodia winning the world court’s ruling related to the Preah Vihear temple.”

He then attacked Hun Sen and claimed that he launched the “battle” that began on 4 February. Kasit says that alleged attack was successful “probably with help from other countries like Russia, India and China.” He claimed Hun Sen’s aim was to get international involvement, hoping for another win like that in 1962 at the World Court. Thailand is dead scared of this. Kasit trumpeted his own readiness to “defend Thailand in all venues.” He then proclaimed: “We should not forget that we have the US a true friend.”

And just for good measure, Kasit claimed: “Although Cambodia created perception that it was harassed by Thailand and tried to win sympathy from the International Community, Thailand would not allow Hun Sen, a bully boy, to bully Thailand…”. Read Sondhi Limthongkul, and the idea of little Cambodia bullying Thailand seems somewhat far-fetched.

Marvelous and almost deranged stuff from a minister who must be disoriented by the attacks from his buddies in PAD, who now see him as one of those in the orbit of “evil politicians.”





Updated: Yellow anger

17 01 2011

The Phuket Gazette has a report about a group of 30 yellow-shirt demonstrators from the People’s Alliance for Democracy “saving the nation” in Phuket, “mocking the Thai government’s handling of the recent arrest and trial of seven Thais by the Cambodian authorities.” The group claimed that the 7 arrested Thais in Cambodia were, despite all the evidence, arrested in Thailand.

According to the report, their rally included a performance that “showed Thai Defense Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan giving away Thai land to Hun Sen. The group also attacked the Thai government, “singling out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, [and] Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya…”.

It performed a ceremony cursing the Cambodian PM for alleged crimes against Thai people and the country.” That apparently involved a “bizarre ritual involved writing Hun Sen’s name on a chicken egg and throwing it into a paper box.” The group shouted “Hun Sen must go to hell! Thailand must win!” In addition, the yellow ones “distributed leaflets claiming Thailand was about to lose territory to Cambodia. They read a statement criticizing Hun Sen’s behavior and the Thai government’s handling of the issue.”

The group “accused the Cambodians of breaking international law, violating Thai sovereignty and showing heavy contempt for Thai nationhood.” Worse, the Thai government was weak and unwilling to confront Cambodia and called for the government to “defend the Kingdom’s honor.”

Meanwhile, back in Bangkok, MCOT News reports that the yellow shirts in the Thai Patriots Network (TPN) group are collecting signatures from the public and plan on “submitting them to the king to gain his royal consent in removing the present Cabinet following the arrest of seven Thais in Cambodia…”. That sounds a little like the PAD calls to the king to throw Thaksin out back in 2006 when PAD called for the king to make use of Article 7 of the 1997 Constitution.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep immediately said this was “improper.” Suthep said that the action was “improper as it would perturb the monarch while people would have a say on whom they would choose in governing the country in a general election which Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said would be held within this year.”

PPT thinks the yellow shirts are pretty mindless on all of this stuff. However, to be fair, it needs to be recalled that the earlier incarnation of PAD took “royal powers” pretty seriously and it seems the king did too. Recall this:

The king of Thailand has met a large number of privy councillors for consultations on the political situation which has been deteriorating since early last month, local press reported Friday.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej met 17 privy councillors at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin Thursday, the biggest gathering of privy councillors in many years, Bangkok Post quoted sources close to the privy council as saying.

The meeting lasted about three hours, during which the King expressed concerns for the current political situation, said the report without giving further details.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on Thursday formally called for a royally-bestowed prime minister to replace caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as the 48-hour deadline it imposed on Thaksin expired last night.

The alliance suggest invoking Article 7 of the charter to defuse the ongoing crisis, which stated whenever no provision under the constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.

There were many in the Democrat Party who supported the use of Article 7 back then, including Abhisit. And, it was Abhisit who rejected an election (in April 2006) as a way of sorting out political disputes. So if the yellow chickens come home to roost, then the so-called Democrats should be blaming themselves.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a report that mentions Abhisit acknowledging land claims by Thai farmers in the area where the 7 Thais were arrested near Sa Kaeo. It also states that “Chaiwat Sinsuwong, a core member of the network, announced on Saturday the group planned to lodge the complaint at the Grand Palace tomorrow morning. He also said they will hold a rally in front of Government House on the same day.”





With several updates: Abhisit reveals the contradictions of dealing with PAD

9 01 2011

Yes, we dubbed him “Teflon Mark,” but we think Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is digging himself into an ever deeper hole on the yellow-shirted border crossers.

The Bangkok Post reports that Abhisit is talking tough,warning Cambodia, reassuring the nationalists in Thailand that his government is not caving in to Cambodia: “The ruling cannot be used to support any claim by Cambodia over border demarcation,” he said in a statement indicating that the yellow shirted nationalists remain important for his government.

The prime minister sent Panich Vikitsreth, a Bangkok Democrat MP to the Thai-Cambodian border, saying “a group of Thai citizens had lodged a complaint with the government, saying they could not  make use of their land within the disputed border area.”

Recall that he earlier denied sending Panich to this particular location. That particular untruth seems now forgotten.

Panich was sent to the border with Veera Somkwamkid, co-ordinator of the Thai Patriot Network joined to the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), and with members of the conservative Santi Asoke sect, another PAD ally that often sends it members into the front line of militant of nationalist actions. They follow PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang.

Abhisit says that “the PAD and Santi Asoke were also concerned about the issue, so Mr Panich volunteered to join them in an inspection of the area.”

It is clear that Abhisit knew of the trip and who was involved. Of course, the Democrat Party has a long-established connection to these groups,even if it is criticized from time to time by the yellow-shirted media.

Then Abhisit joins those who have managed to deliberately lied in the face of clear evidence to the contrary when he says:  “I don’t believe those seven Thais intended to either trespass on or spy in Cambodia…”.

PPT doesn’t believe spying was involved, but the intent to cross the border to provoke arrest is clear.

Abhisit is under pressure from PAD for more militant actions, but he is also dealing with them on this issue. And that is where his problem lies, for the extreme right pushes him for more. For example, Prasong Soonsiri, former National Security Council chief, former foreign minister and a royalist coup planner close to PAD, accuses the government of being “too submissive.”

His view is that “the government to insist that the seven Thais were arrested on Thai territory and not to accept the Cambodian court’s verdict if they are found guilty.” He adds that these seven have “contributed to society.”

Abhisit is locked into these lies and alliances with the conservative right.

Update 1: The problem for Abhisit continues as PAD scream for “no retreat,” yelling a nationalist mythology that claims land that is both in dispute but also land that “is Thai” even if not within its current agreed boundaries. See this in the Bangkok Post, where PAD issued a statement demanding that “the government to force Cambodia to free seven detained Thais without any condition.” PAD claims there is evidence – has anyone seen it? – “showing that the seven Thais were arrested in Thailand’s territory.”

PAD “condemned” all those “who had told reporters that the Thais had entered into Cambodian territory.” This included: “Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Sakaeo provincial governor Sanit Naksuksri.” Notice that Abhisit is missing from the list, because he hasn’t fallen into this traitor’s trap. Still, he gets a bollocking for “failing to use their authorities [sic.] to pressure Cambodia to free seven Thais.”

The yellow-shirt people group also condemned Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodian government and soldiers for arresting the Thais in Thailand’s territory and brought them into Cambodia court, despite Thailand had helped Cambodian refugees during the civil war in the neighbouring country. PAD called on the government to reject any ruling by the Cambodian court – what if they are declared innocent and freed? – and demands an “an official ultimatum to Cambodia…”.

As we noted above, Abhisit cannot easily escape the alliance that was forged in the period when the Democrat Party needed PAD activism to get them closer to snatching power. That debt is large and difficult to repay in full.

Update 2: In The Nation, Abhisit says this: “I want to bring back the seven now and all other issues will be dealt with at a later date…”. The yellow shirts really have him jumping!

Update 3: Bangkok Pundit has a neat twist on this story, linking Panich to the Santi Asoke sect: “Panich’s involvement arose because he is a Santi Asoke follower and former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs.” This is followed-up with another interesting statement: “Panich was strongly supported in the by-election in 2010 by Santi Asoke’s Dharma Army.” The Democrat Party can’t escape its debt to the yellow shirts.





Wikileaks, privy councilors and the prince

16 12 2010

US embassy cables: Thai officials express concerns over crown prince

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 December 2010 21.30 GMT

Monday, 25 January 2010, 07:59

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000192

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

EO 12958 DECL: 01/25/2030

TAGS PREL, PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: AMBASSADOR ENGAGES PRIVY COUNCIL CHAIR

PREM, OTHER “ESTABLISHMENT” FIGURES ON YEAR AHEAD

REF: BANGKOK 184 (SEH DAENG)

BANGKOK 00000192 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason 1.4 (b,d)

1. (S) Summary: Ambassador paid a series of New Year’s-related calls on influential Thai figures, including Privy Council Chair GEN Prem, Privy Council member ACM Siddhi, and former PM Anand, to discuss the year ahead. Abhisit’s performance, issues related to the royal family, and challenges posed by Thaksin/Hun Sen emerged as the primary themes. Prem offered a more positive assessment of Abhisit’s performance than Siddhi, who criticized Abhisit for a lack of resolve and the absence of an effective team to carry out his policies. All three focused on the challenge posed by Thaksin to the government and, indirectly, to the monarchy; Anand attributed part of the King’s poor health to Thaksin, and both Prem and Siddhi were upset about Thaksin’s alliance of convenience with Cambodian leader Hun Sen. All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. While asserting that the Crown Prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening.

2. (S) Comment: On the two most difficult and sensitive issues of the day in Thailand — Thaksin and the monarchy — the Thai elite appear as unsure about the future as any other sector of society. The stakes are significant for all sides, and resolution of the political divide and royal succession could still be far over the horizon. Elite concerns about Abhisit in office appear to reflect less on his performance than on general worries about the ultimate resolution of issues. End Summary and Comment.

Mixed Views on Abhisit’s performance

————————————

3. (C) Privy Councilor Chair GEN Prem shared his assessments of PM Abhisit, the Crown Prince’s relationship with Thaksin, and difficulties dealing with Cambodia/Hun Sen with Ambassador over lunch January 13. Regarding Abhisit, Prem referenced widespread criticism that the PM was too young and not strong enough to be an effective leader in trying times. However, Prem felt that Abhisit had proved in 2009 that he was up to the challenge of doing what was necessary to run a fractious coalition government, no easy task. In addition, there were no other politicians available who were more principled and had more integrity than Abhisit, and Thailand needed such a leader at this point. Prem expressed hope that Thais and foreigners alike would be more patient with Abhisit, who he believed was the right man to serve as premier.

4. (C) Fellow Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi, hosting Ambassador at his home January 11, was more critical of Abhisit than Prem. Siddhi said that he had told Abhisit’s father, his own long-time personal physician, that his son needed to be more decisive and “make more friends” in 2010. Abhisit spent too much time at the podium and not enough time assembling an effective team to which he could delegate action and rely on for well-thought out policy initiatives, in Siddhi’s view. Abhisit also needed to get out to engage the grassroots, one of Thaksin’s strengths. On Siddhi’s wish list: Abhisit pushing through a permanent appointment for Acting Police Chief Pratheep; using his power over wayward coalition parties by threatening parliamentary dissolution if they did not get in line; and telling the Army to take action to dismiss renegade MGEN Khattiya, even if Defense Minister Prawit refused to sign a dismissal order.

Political Year Ahead

——————–

5. (C) While GEN Prem expressed moderate concern about the potential for violence and political discord in early 2010, he felt the situation was no worse than six months ago. Prem asked about U.S. laws regarding demonstrations and avoiding

BANGKOK 00000192 002.2 OF 003

excessive disruptions of government functions and daily lives of citizens; Ambassador explained the U.S. system of permits for protests which allowed for free speech but not free access everywhere. Ambassador shared U.S. frustration about decisions negatively affecting economic/investment climate, such as Ma Tha Phut and the digital lottery cancellation; the uneven application of the rule of law, breaches of contract, and regulatory shifts affected the investment climate more negatively at this point than political turmoil.

6. (C) ACM Siddhi expressed more concerns than Prem about the security situation in 2010, suggesting that Army Commander Anupong’s inability to control wayward red-affiliated MGEN Khattiya’s M-79 attacks on yellow-shirt rallies and trips to see Thaksin overseas was not a good harbinger (note: three days later, someone attacked Anupong’s office at night with an M-79, with Khattiya widely seen as the likely suspect, see reftel. End note). Siddhi said he had higher hopes for deputy Commander Prayuth, widely expected to replace Anupong in October and seen as particularly close to the Queen. Siddhi claimed Prem had sent a signal of his displeasure with Anupong by snubbing him during a group call at Prem’s residence to pass birthday greetings, not stopping to talk to Anupong personally as he did with other key military commanders.

Royal Family: King, Crown Prince, Entourages

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7. (S) Regarding King Bhumibol’s health, Prem indicated that the King was exercising 30 minutes a day on a stationary bicycle at Siriraj Hospital and passing a medicine ball with a physical therapist to build up strength and regain weight. Prem acknowledged that he had not seen the King since the hospitalization, but that the Queen and Princess Sirindhorn saw the King daily. When Ambassador asked about the Crown Prince’s involvement, Prem repeated: the Queen and Sirindhorn visit him daily.

8. (S) Prem acknowledged Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, “seeing him from time to time.” Prem, clearly no fan of either man, cautioned that Thaksin ran the risk of self-delusion if he thought that the Crown Prince would act as his friend/supporter in the future merely because of Thaksin’s monetary support; “he does not enjoy that sort of relationship.” When Ambassador asked where the Crown Prince was currently, in Thailand or Europe, Prem replied dismissively: “You know his social life, how he is.” (Note: a presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son).

9. (S) ACM Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai Ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn. Siddhi raised Thaksin’s controversial November Times On-line interview, which Siddhi claimed cast the King in a bad light and attempted to praise the Crown Prince as broad-minded and educated abroad, hinting that Vajiralongkorn would be ready to welcome Thaksin back to Thailand once he became King.

10. (S) Ambassador mentioned to Siddhi the Crown Prince’s more engaging approach in the early December King’s Birthday reception with Ambassadors, shaking each envoy’s hand and appearing more at ease than in the 2008 reception. Siddhi stated that succession would be a difficult transition time for Thailand. According to Palace Law, the Crown Prince would succeed his father, but added after a pause, almost hopefully: “if the Crown Prince were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep (Sirindhorn) could succeed.”

11. (S) Ambassador similarly raised the Crown Prince’s more confident demeanor with former PM Anand in late December, seeking Anand’s assessment of the dynamics in play as succession inevitably drew nearer. Anand’s response was

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similar to Siddhi’s, but more detailed and blunt. Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors — if Vajiralongkohn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions. After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behavior. After another pause, Anand added that someone really should raise the matter with the King, before adding with regret that there really was no one who could raise such a delicate topic (note: implied was the need for an alternative to Vajiralongkorn).

12. (S) ACM Siddhi expressed his personal concern about the declining image of the royal family in Thailand, noting that something as simple as excessive motorcade-related traffic jams caused by minor royals was an unnecessary but enduring irritant. Personal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin had raised this with the King about eight years ago, according to Siddhi, and the King had agreed, authorizing Arsa to talk to royal family members and to set up new rules limiting entourages and occasions when traffic would be stopped. Nothing had changed; Siddhi noted that he had been caught up in traffic for 45 minutes the previous week returning for a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador, due to a royal motorcade. Stories that the Crown Prince now ordered second story windows closed as his motorcade passed achieved nothing but additional popular resentment, Siddhi added sorrowfully.

Thaksin and Hun Sen

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13. (C) Thaksin clearly remained on the mind of all three “establishment” figures. Former PM Anand asserted that the King’s health and mood remained poor “primarily because of Thaksin” and the challenge Thaksin posed to the stability of the country. GEN Prem asked Ambassador what the U.S. would do in the situation Thailand found itself, with a neighboring country appointing as an adviser a former leader bent on bringing down the government. Ambassador replied that while former U.S. Presidents did occasionally give paid speeches overseas, they would never work for another government; he advised Prem and Thai officials to take the high road in their public comments about Cambodia, and not to be drawn into a tit for tat with Thaksin and Hun Sen. (Note: Prem seemed to be musing out loud, but he clearly was focused on what he perceived as a threat from Thaksin and Hun Sen’s facilitation of Thaksin’s efforts).

14. (C) ACM Siddhi said that PM Abhisit had called him on his 90th birthday recently and had indicated that now that Thailand was no longer ASEAN Chair, Abhisit would feel less constrained in responding to Hun Sen’s bullying rhetoric more freely. Siddhi expressed concern that in addition to Cambodia and Brunei, clearly in Thaksin’s camp due to his close personal ties with Hun Sen and the Brunei Sultan, Laos and Vietnam might back Hun Sen in the ongoing Thai-Cambodia diplomatic spat.

15. (C) ACM Siddhi attacked Thaksin as trying to use money, red-shirt protests, and Hun Sen to “destroy our country,” but he predicted Thaksin would not succeed. Thaksin never had tried to negotiate, Siddhi alleged, but only issued demands; had he been willing to come back and spend a nominal time in jail for his conviction, Thaksin likely would have been quickly pardoned/released as a former PM. Now Thaksin would try to create chaos, possibly sparking the use of force. While Siddhi expected Thaksin to lose the February 26 decision on his 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) in frozen assets, he claimed his sources indicated Thaksin still had 240 billion baht ($7.3 billion) overseas. Rather than live overseas quietly, Thaksin had decided to fight, funding websites attacking the King and Queen to stir up anti-monarchy views. JOHN

[PPT: We’ll have some comments on this later.]





More on alleged Cambodian terrorist training

12 10 2010

MCOT reports that “Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will query his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen on reports of arms training for hard-core anti-government Red Shirt activists on Cambodian soil when both leaders meet at a regional summit later this month…”. This report refers to the claims that have been made by Privy Council associated sources and the Department of Special Investigation after 11 alleged red shirt “terrorists-in-training” were placed under protective custody a few days ago.

Tawin Pleansri, the Secretary-General  of Thailand’s National Security Council (NSC) is said to have “confirmed” the DSI report, although the news reports actually have him repeating the allegations “that Thai security-related agencies are watching the Red Shirt movement for signs of further weapons training.” PPT would have thought that they have been doing this for some years now. Tawin did add that the DSI report “must be further verified before taking any legal action.”

Cambodia dismissed the allegations and accused the Thai authorities of having fabricated the report. AP says that Cambodian authorities strongly denied the allegations by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, citing government spokesman Khieu Kanharith who asked: “Why would we need to do this? Cambodia would receive absolutely no benefit from training these people…. Cambodia strongly rejects these allegations.”

Meanwhile, the Phnom Penh Post has an account of the MCOT stories, and reports a Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi as saying “that his ministry had yet to receive any request from the DSI.” He is reported to have added: “We heard of the press report that came out, but we’ll have to check and follow up this with the DSI…. We’re not quite sure how the news report was reported, whether it was accurate or not, so we’ll check with the source of the information.” The report also cites Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong as saying that the accusations are “completely untrue,” adding that Cambodia “was in no position to provide material or financial support to the Red Shirt movement.”

The Nation presents a slightly different picture, with the always acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn having the rosiest view of relations between the two countires, saying “Cambodia has promised to look into reports that redshirt militants were trained there to assassinate key public figures…”. He claims Abhisit met Hun Sen to discuss the issue “on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Summit in Brussels last week.” He said, “Cambodia has promised to check into the reports.”





Updated: The Cambodians and red shirts

11 10 2010

The highly politicized Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has decided to push ahead on the very unlikely story related to the 11 men arrested/detained/protected or something else in Chiang Mai, who were at one time accused of undergoing weapons training (but weren’t) at a resort in the north. PPT posted on this “case” of alleged red shirt “freedom fighters” or “terrorists-in-training” earlier. Our skepticism (and that of others) was expressed there.

DSI now claims that an “investigation” had discovered that “39 Thai men” – we presume DSI checked their passports and IDs – “have been trained for arms use in Cambodia for a mission to assassinate this country’s key public figures including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.”DSI claims this was a second round of alleged training in Cambodia.

Given that DSI is very much a flunky agency for the Abhisit regime, continually making political cases and rapid-fire allegations, all this is a bit hard to believe, but the report is carried by MCOT, so is going to get attention.

Pol-Lt Col Payao Thongsen, chief of DSI investigators probing the terrorism charge-related activities, told a news conference that the 11 (arrested/detained/protected or something else) men were “suspected of involvement in a movement to destabilise national security and plan to kill the country’s very important persons as well as overthrow the monarchy…”. This mirrors statements made by Chiang Mai police a few days ago. He claims that “police … have … solid evidence such as phone call details between these people and Red Shirt DJs group in Cambodia…”.

Apparently the men were “well-trained in using firearms” after a full one week of training (see below). Interestingly, trained assassins sent to kill king and prime minister, are now “under witness protection scheme in exchange for useful information which could lead to an arrest of other accomplices.” The colonel also said that these nasties had “confessed to being members of the anti-government movement, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and … were recruited and taken by Red Shirt leaders to Cambodia for arms training.” After that shock announcement, the DSI “investigator” linked this group to “men-in-black.” As he mentions the April and May events, we might assume that these men-in-black are not the one’s who took over an airport car park recently, apparently supporting a “business arrangement” for government-aligned politicians. In any case, these men had not undergone the alleged training until after 19 May.

Payao claimed that it was “Red Shirt leaders in northern region, mainly Red Shirt disc jockeys at community radio stations” who organised the training in Cambodia. Red shirt leader Arisman Pongruangrong is also said to have been involved. The colonel says one “group convened in Bangkok, leaving Thailand by way of the Chong Jom border crossing in Surin province, the second group gathered at Nakhon Ratchasima and left Thailand via Chong Jom, and the last group met at Sa Kaeo and crossed to Cambodia…”. Linking this story to the Privy Council-linked alarmist claims released over the weekend, Payao said the 39 were “in a Cambodian army camp and they were trained by Cambodian soldiers.”

Payao claims that the first week of the alleged training “focused on political education but inciting anger and hatred on the monarchy while the second week was how to use military weapons and the third week was field operations training…”. He says that DSI found a “map of routes leading to [the] home of former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban who oversees national security had been used for the training of how to carry out the assassination plot and how to deal with his security guards…”. The targets for assassination also included Abhisit, Newin Chidchob and acting Police Inspector-General Pol Lt-Gen Somkid Boonthanom.

Colonel Payao said the “35 armed men arrived Thailand August 16 and then went separate ways before reuniting again in Phufa Resort in Chiang Mai in September to be standby for the operation as asked by UDD leaders in the northern region.” There is no indication where the other 24 associated with this alleged plot are now located, although the DSI G-men are on their trail, including in Cambodia.

PPT awaits the evidence that will no doubt be made available in the (presumably open) court cases. We are also keen to hear the Cambodian response.

Update: The Nation now has a brief story on this Payao press conference. Meanwhile, the Cambodian government has denied the claims. Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan stated: “It’s made up. Our constitution does not allow anyone to do that sort of thing [on Cambodian soil]…. Nobody is allowed to do any such stupid thing in Cambodia.” As might be expected, he also referred to “recent meetings between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Abhisit in the United States and Brussels were evidence of Cambodia’s good intentions to improve relations.” Phay added: “So I think this accusation is a made-up story to blame Cambodia, and is also [part of the] campaign against the red shirts, using Cambodia as a springboard for Thai local politics…”.