Going after kids II

19 03 2017

A tragic report at Prachatai sounds like something from the 1960s or 1970s. It reports that:

On 17 March 2017, soldiers and other security officers of Pha Muang Task Force deployed at a checkpoint in Mueang Na Subdistrict of Chiang Dao District in Chiang Mai Province summarily killed Chaiyaphum Pasea, a 17-year-old Lahu ethnic minority.

The soldiers claimed that they found certain amount of amphetamine in the car Chaiyaphum was sitting in and that he was resisting the authorities to arrest him by pulling out a knife before running into a bush.

The security officers added that when they found the suspect in the bush he was about to throw a bomb at the soldiers, so they shot him.

The only civilian witness to these events is in custody (and in grave danger). The report explains Chaiyaphum’s background:

The killing of Chaiyaphum raised many questions because he was an active youth activist who participating in many events to promote the rights of ethnic minorities in Northern Thailand.

On 15 March, he was among the 19 youth representatives of ethnic minorities who attended a youth activist forum organised by the National Institute for Child and Family Development in Bangkok.

He was also awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb’ and several of his short documentaries were broadcasted on Thai PBS.

The late activist is also a gifted song writer who composed ethnic folk songs about his communities.

This does not sound much like a drug-taking, knife wielding bomb thrower to us. Like probably every one else, we cannot help bu think that this is just one more murder by the military state. Expect military denials, even more ridiculous stories and claims by them and impunity for the murderers.





New military “hero” organizing “reconciliation”

6 03 2017

It has been recognized that Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong is flying towards the top. When a military regime is seeking to embed authoritarianism, it often happens that the lure of running things, having lots of power and the chance to acquire great wealth causes aspiring green shirts to take a shot of becoming the next military political “hero.”

Most regimes see upstarts pushing the bigger bosses. For example, Field Marshal Phibun had to watch out for not only royalists but also for General Sarit Thanarat and Pol Gen Phao Sriyanon. General Prem Tinsulanonda had the palace on side, but had to see off “Young Turks” uppity generals like Arthit Kamlang-ek.

Now it is General Apirat’s chance.

apirat

The Bangkok Post has been reporting on Lt Gen Apirat rather too consistently than his bosses might like. The latest has him arranging for the “governors of 21 provinces in the Central Plain [to]… team up with officers from the 1st Army to gather views of people in their provinces on national reconciliation as the government expands its push for forging unity upcountry.”

“People” has an odd, junta-friendly, definition, generally meaning “groups” like bureaucrats, academics and business people. The lower rungs of society only rarely get defined as “people” worthy of having “views.”

To kick off the (real) people-free “reconciliation” PR exercise, “governors were invited to have a talk with 1st Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday…”. Somewhat garbled, the report goes on to write of “their joint move” in a “meeting of the chiefs of all units under the 1st Army and representatives from the Internal Security Operations Command.”

It all sounds rather like something arranged in the 1970s about counterinsurgency. Back then, the governors were the key link between the military and civilian bureaucrats. The arrangement meant the military dominated civilian administration.

Lt Gen Apirat has a similar view today, saying “the governors will be the ‘key men’ in this initial stage to gather useful opinions from people from all walks of life.” As it was several decades ago, it is the “military chiefs [who] will serve as supporters and coordinators to invite target groups to air their views at the roundtable meetings…”. And they will have to listen and learn to junta propaganda.

Which groups? They will be “local politicians, scholars, state officials and business persons in the provinces and community leaders and non-governmental organisations.” The real people still can’t be trusted.

The report states that they “will be encouraged to talk on 10 topics, set by the panel appointed to work on a process to restore national unity, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”. That is, the selected “trainees” will “discuss” only junta-approved stuff.

In case readers wondered, “national unity” was destroyed by Thaksin Shinawatra being a “divisive” figure. The military is not “divisive” despite its penchant for gunning down protesters.

Lt Gen Apirat declared that he wanted “all participants to adopt impartial attitudes…”. We doubt he understands the meaning of “impartial.”

He also “revealed” that there was an extra topic: “referring to a question raised by [The Dictator] … who wants to know how all parties view the ongoing problems facing the country and how they can help solve them bringing back a peaceful atmosphere.”

Um. Ah. Huh? The other issues in a reconciliation meeting don’t to this? Yes, we get it, Apirat is posterior polishing. When making a run for the top, ensure that current incumbents don’t feel they are in trouble or being destabilized. Butter them up and appear “loyal.”

All this faux “opinion gathering” at the provincial level has “to be completed within this month.” We guess that the military already has the required “opinions” on its lists.

These “opinions” will be processed by – you guessed it – the military: “Once the governors finish their work, the opinions will be sent to a sub-panel led by permanent secretary for defence, [General] Chaicharn Changmongkol.”

This might be good PR for the junta. It is also keeping Apirat in the limelight, where he prefers to be.





Updated: Thailand’s culture of torture

1 03 2017

A day or so ago, the Bangkok Post reported on the military dictatorship’s puppet National Legislative Assembly having “dropped legislation to criminalise torture and disappearances after years of working on the bill…”.

The United Nations Human Rights Office and NGOs reported on this.

Because Thailand has long been dominated by the military, torture is not only “not a criminal offence … and perpetrators cannot be prosecuted,” but it is essentially standard practice among the military and police.

Torture as used by the current regime ranges from the blatant use of torture such as beating, choking and electric shocks when persons are taken into custody to deliberately delayed, long, drawn-out and secret trials of lese majeste suspects who are often shackled.

Meanwhile, the “lack of a law on disappearances leaves a legal loophole that means security officials who abduct people and kill them, imprison them or send them to a third country may never be brought to justice.”

The UN stated that the “decision not to enact the bill is … a devastating blow to the families of those who have disappeared. They have the right to know the truth.”

The Post report adds that:

Amnesty International said last year Thailand’s military government has allowed a “culture of torture” to flourish since the army seized power in a 2014 coup, with allegations of beatings, smothering with plastic bags, waterboarding and electric shocks on detainees by authorities.

In the face of ample evidence of torture, the military regime lies that none of this is true.

Update: Khaosod reports that a “senior Justice Ministry official said the regime remains committed to enacting legislation against torture and enforced disappearance despite belief the bill died recently in a subcommittee.” No details provided….





Father and son

25 02 2017

On roughly the anniversary of the 1991 military coup, another supported by Thailand’s middle class, dependent on the military and monarchy to keep them above the feared masses, it is interesting that the Bangkok Post does a feature on the son of that coup’s leader, General Sunthorn “Big George” Kongsompong.

Dad dies in 1999, having been held in low repute following the blood-letting of May 1992. As might be expected, Sunthorn was well-heeled and split his time between Thailand and France after the coup group was disgraced.* For more on the 1991 coup, see PDFs here and here.

His son, First Army Region commander Lt. Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, has been on the up and up since he proved himself a red shirt hater in 2010, shooting at protesters in one of the first “hot” clashes of that uprising.He’s been rewarded by the coup group with promotions and cushy money-making positions.

apirat

Apirat

The Post gives him glory with its headline: “Army chief in the making?”

It notes that this year “tension is building on several fronts” for the military junta, “which needs a commander it can trust to help iron things out.” That seems to be just the deal for Apirat, who is making the news more often than he should. Yet, as the story correctly observes,

The NCPO and the armed forces, particularly the army, are one and the same. Naturally, when the going gets a little tough on the political road, the council looks to the army to to steer a course of action required for pacifying heated issues, which could potentially spiral out of control.

Within the army, it says, Apirat is “one commander stands out from the crowd, who is known for his combat skills.” He can be relied on to wage war against anyone seen as a threat to military and monarchy.

The Post also notes his role in seeing off the lads from the south complaining about a coal-fired power station. That group seemed to like him and saw him as a factional leader facing off against the old guard in the junta. That’s unlikely at present as he owes the big boys leading the junta.

On the coal dispute, this:

Lt Gen Apirat said it was necessary to end the protest peacefully and quickly, citing an intelligence report of a third party and anti-government elements attempting to politicise the protest and whipping up an undercurrent for their own political benefit.

That’s buffalo poo, but you get the picture. Apirat knows that his protesters are political allies.

Apirat is positioned for higher position because he heads up Bangkok’s military garrison. He’s got a finger in the funeral stuff at Sanam Luang and his men are backing up the troops and police at Wat Dhammakaya.

When the “election” comes around, you can be sure that Apirat and his troops will be busy arranging the result in Bangkok. Apirat seems likely to emulate his father at the head of undemocratic forces.

____

*Some accounts suggest that Sunthorn was close to Thaksin Shinawatra.





Toys for boys

22 02 2017

PPT has been trying to find a “space” for this post for a few days. Now we have it.

An op-ed at the Bangkok Post comments on Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, who doubles as the Minister for Defense, and his confirmation that “the Royal Thai Navy will spend 13.5 billion baht for one Chinese-made submarine, delivery guaranteed in 2017.” Another 27 billion baht will be paid “for two additional subs have been approved in principle.”

The op-ed states that this is “a disappointing rejection of both public and expert opinion that opposes the long drawn-out plan to equip the navy with submarines on every conceivable ground imaginable.”

That’s about as strong a rejection as possible! It gets stronger, saying the junta’s justification for the sub purchase “should be grounds for immediate cancellation of the order.”

The reason given by the navy “has boiled down to a single reason: neighbouring countries have submarines. This justification is entirely unremarkable.” The author continues: “That other countries have submarines can have no real bearing on Thailand…. But there is no arms race in the region, no palpable threat of war — nothing to justify taking 40 billion baht from the public coffers to begin a brand new military branch.”

The op-ed then mentions other military purchases that have been farces: an aircraft carrier that carries no aircraft that can fly and the army’s dirigible, the ill-fated Sky Dragon that has never been operational and the GT200 magic wand that was said to be a “bomb detector” but was a fake.

No one has ever been held responsible for these (and myriad other) ridiculous purchases. Who got those commissions?

The author concludes:

It is becoming more difficult by the day to shake the thought that the coup of May 2014 was more about the coup-makers than the nation. The junta, the prime minister and every ministry has refused to engage the public on every decision — political, social and economic. The purchase of these costly boats for the navy are often derided as “toys for boys”. The lack of credible justification for the purchase of yet more non-strategic hardware makes that tough to refute.

That seems a reasonable conclusion about an unreasonable regime.





“Reconciliation” by military committee II

9 02 2017

The degree of military control of this flawed “reconciliation” soap opera has been seen in a military press conference on the contrived process. This picture, snipped from the Bangkok Post, tells much.

military-in-charge

The report states: “The military will start discussions on national reconciliation with politicians on Valentine’s Day and plans to produce a reconciliation pact in three months.”

We can surmise that the “pact” is already crafted. Claims that the document will come after the talks are unbelievable as this junta is had more than two years to prepare its agenda.

“The Defence Ministry will arrange roundtable discussions where military officers talk with 10 representatives from each political party on weekdays…. At the roundtable, 10 soldiers would discuss 10 reconciliation-related topics with the 10 political representatives from each party.”

Ten isn’t usually a lucky number, but it is the 10th reign…. Only 10 issues need discussing? And reconciliation is being steered by the soldiers and the parties are being kept separate.

Why only political parties? We gather that this is because the purpose is to ensure that an “election” produces the result desired by the military dictatorship. “Reconciliation” means the existing political parties will acknowledge and accept the domination of the military junta.

When the military’s document is “approved,” it is will be by a “committee headed by army chief Chalermchai Sittisat…. The panel would include Somkid Lertpaitoon, president of Thammasat University and member of the National Legislative Assembly.”

Somkid is a notorious royalist and handmaiden to the military junta. We guess he’s already in on the military’s “agreement” that will be put before the political parties.

Then, following tactics used in the constitutional “referendum,”  the “draft” will “go to public hearings that the military would organise in all regions.” That means no real discussion and certainly no debate is expected.

The military adds that “[r]epresentatives of farmers would also be invited to comment on the draft,” presumably chosen by the military.

The junta expects that its “reconciliation pact” would be “accepted” as “a consensus from political parties and general people.”

Like the junta’s “constitution,” the “reconciliation pact” is a military plan for junta political longevity and for military political domination into the future.





More militarization

2 01 2017

The militarization of politics is a seemingly a worldwide trend. In Thailand, of course, it has been the norm for more than eight decades. Thailand’s military dictatorship has seen the military brass in charge of pretty much everything.

Military men in Thailand are not known for their intelligence. Rather, they are characterized by their dimwitted approach to anything challenging, their unbridled capacity for murderous action against opponents and their jellybacked contortions in the hierarchical society they have shaped.

With this in mind, PPT always gets wondering when a relatively new jellyback begins to get lippy on politics and the military. It might be just because it is new year, but PPT couldn’t help but notice a series of Bangkok Post reports all citing Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart. Why is he suddenly talking and considered newsworthy? What do his bosses in the junta think about this?

The first story is the most unlikely, but suggestive of the potential for conflict within the military. Yes, we know that the story is sold as the Army chief wanting to reduce conflict within the military brass, but the opposite seems more likely. Chalermchai states that he “adheres to the merit system, a mechanism employed to prevent problems associated with frustration over promotions seen as unfair by some.”

No Army commander has ever used a merit system, so this will upset the existing cliques, including the murderous “Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East) … the faction of army officers who had served at the 2nd Infantry Division of the Queen’s Guard based in Prachin Buri” and the Wong Thewan faction that links to the “1st Division of the King’s Guard in Bangkok.”

Officers trained in quelling domestic political passions and ass-licking in palace circles will find the notion of “merit” threatening. Our guess is that Chalermchai may be seeking to limit the promotions of those officers considered close to the king.

The second story relates to “southern unrest.” He predicts a decline in violence over the next couple of years. However, his reasons for this claim are unclear. We wonder how he feels about the coordinating role of General Udomdej Sitabutr, a former Army boss, to run things in the south? Chalermchai’s position is likely undermined. Not unrelated, the conflict in the south is a huge money spinner for the Army, and this move involving Udomdej may siphon those funds elsewhere.

The third story is the most bizarre. General Chalermchai is reported to have “expressed confidence no coup would be staged to challenge the election results no matter who wins, saying the rules would be respected.” PPT had not heard any rumors of a potential coup, so we wonder why Chalermchai was motivated to speak?

In addition, the result of the junta’s “election,” now more likely in 2018 than 2017, is not in doubt. The junta will not allow a result it does not want and desire. So, who in the Army would be dissatisfied with the outcome? Who are the junta’s military opponents?

As it turns out, his response was to a question about what the Army would do if “the old political clique [a pro-Thaksin party] won a mandate to form a government.” That is simply not going to happen, so Chalermchai’s response is more than necessary. Why’s that?

He did go on to warn about political discontent: “It is useless to create trouble because it could give a reason to the NCPO [the junta] to extend the roadmap.”

It is always troubling when military types begin talking about coups and politics. Their heavy boots trample all and when more than one set of boots is dancing, many others risk being trodden on and being bumped aside.