Trigger-happy soldiers and impunity

13 01 2018

When Chaiyapoom Pasae was shot dead by soldiers it was soon revealed that there was another shooting leading to death involving Abe Sae Moo. Both cases involve soldiers accused of using excessive force. Both were separately killed at the Ban Rin Luang military checkpoint in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district. The excuses provided by  the military and backed all the way to the top was that both men resisted, ran and tried to throw a grenade at the soldiers who then shot them dead.

As far as we know, neither case has gone anywhere, the military shooters remain free and more or less unidentified and evidence remains officially hidden.

A recent case suggests that the military remains trigger-happy.

A few days ago, Khaosod reported that after initially “forgetting” to reveal that soldiers were involved, police had finally admitted that they were when Sorachai Sathitraksadumrong was shot in the head and died. Amazingly, a community leader, Wutthichai Injai, had already been arrested for the alleged crime.

Initially the police said “only civilians manned the roadblock…”, on the road between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but “Sorachai’s family and neighbors went to protest Monday at the district administrative office to demand answers and justice for his killing.” They said they knew soldiers were at the road block.

The initial police story was full of inconsistencies.

After it was admitted that soldiers were at the money-making venture road block, “all of the soldiers denied any involvement with the killing, and no witnesses [were said to have] … implicated them.” The soldiers also claimed to be unarmed.

After a while, another Khaosod report was saying that a “soldier [had] stepped forward to admit that he killed a motorist at a northern checkpoint last week…”.

The soldier was not named and remained with military, said to be “in custody.”

This admission came after “the community rallied to pressure police to come clean about what happened following the arrest of a civilian [Wutthichai] for killing the motorist.” Wutthichai was later bailed but still faces legal action.

As police “investigated,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said “the military will convene a disciplinary investigation into the shooting.”

The Bangkok Post then reported that an “army private has turned himself in to police…”:

Pvt Wanchai Champa was accompanied by his boss, Col Worathep Bunya, who commands the 17th Infantry Regiment in Phayao, to report to Provincial Police Region 5 in Chiang Mai before he was handed over to Mae Suai police for interrogation.

Wutthichai’s family have requested that “the national police to take over the case from local officers.”

Then Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart blathered that “the fatal shooting could have stemmed from a misunderstanding by the soldier.” And he played the drug claim, also made in the earlier checkpoint killings:

He admitted he was surprised to learn that soldiers were helping local authorities man a village checkpoint. Their presence could be because of reports of drug trafficking in the area….

Whatever happened, it is clear that the military is out of control. When the military runs the country, they get even further out of control.





Troubles for the junta II

19 12 2017

If the junta plans a transition to a slightly different form of rule following its “election,” it seems to be struggling to maintain political control and direction. Yesterday we posted on some of these issues and challenges. Today we look at how some of these are playing out and some other issues and challenges.

A big issue is when the military dictatorship will ease the ban on political organizing in order to permit the junta’s “election” and how the junta will arrange the military’s continuing political domination. After claims of the formation of a “military party,” those involved have denied that anything is planned (well, sort of).

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, one of the few civilian’s in the military’s government has denied claims that he’s going to lead a military political party. At the same time, the be-watched Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan seemed less sure. Checking his new Casio watch, he said “he had no idea if a military-back political party was being set up or if Mr Somkid would lead it.”

Prawit’s penchant for pricey horographs threatens the junta by showing that it is corrupt, practices double standards and maintains impunity. All of this worries the middle class. It is that class that has been the bedrock of junta political support.

One of the most poignant demonstrations of military cruelty and its institutional impunity has been the death of cadets and recruits. The family of Pakapong “Moei” Tanyakan has rejected a meeting with the military to be told of a military inquiry “investigation” into their son’s death in which the military had already publicly exonerated itself. Such brutality and its sweeping under the carpet are increasingly seen as unacceptable, not least by the middle class.

Then there are the splits within the anti-democrats and with the junta. The usually supine Abhisit Vejjajiva, while still refusing to attack the junta, wants an election, even if it is the junta’s election. So he’s attacking his former deputy and Democrat Party alpha male Suthep Thaugsuban for proposals that might delay an “election” and/or might presage a Suthep-supported alternative political party in the south, gobbling up support that might have gone to the Democrat Party. Any pro-Suthep party is likely to throw weight behind a junta-dominated government post-“election.”

The junta appears befuddled in dealing with political allies of the past although splits in old parties might be considered to benefit any new military party. It is more “comfortable” repressing red shirts.





Callous to all

29 11 2017

Thailand’s military is a barbarous institution, built on violence and behaving violently towards the nation’s citizens and, it has shown, to its own recruits as it barstardizes them to blind compliance with hierarchy and orders.

“Barstardization” is an Australian term used by one of our correspondents, and it struck us as sadly appropriate for this horrid bunch of thugs.

As an example of how base the organization is, The Nation reports that a “military-appointed fact-finding committee investigating the recent death of a teenage cadet at a military academy has refused to give a timetable for its inquiry…’.

The thugs claim this is because they are going to be “transparent,” “honest” and “clear.”

The military’s committee has “already started interviewing witnesses and checking CCTV recordings.”

We are reminded that the military has seldom been “transparent,” “honest” or “clear” in anything. Think of the “investigation” of Chaiyapoom Pasae’s murder. That also included attention to CCTV.

As far as we can tell, that “investigation” went nowhere and the murderers remain free while the military rid itself of one young activist.

The military leadership is callous to all. It makes no distinctions.





Vampires and zombies

26 11 2017

A couple of days ago PPT posted on the latest death of a military recruit. Sadly, there have been many.  In that post we observed that violence is an important element of the military’s establishment of social order and, most importantly, imprints the hierarchy of power that marks the military. It creates dictators who stride the country as (illegitimate) rulers just as it crushes the lower ranks, and makes them zombies, providing obedience to the bosses no matter what their corruption or the callous orders they make.

That’s all we have to say on this because the Bangkok Post’s Kong Rithdee has an important op-ed that everyone should read. A couple of previews:

We thought this country was many things — a country of smiles, of crooks, of crooked smiles, of corrupt politicians and coup-addicted soldiers, of might and military men. Now we’re also a country of vampires….

First thing first, what the public want to see now is simple: Somebody must be suspended or sacked, then investigated by an impartial party. Somebody must be — this is so simple! — responsible. In a civilised society, we couldn’t possibly ask for anything less than this. Unless we’re not that kind of society….

And yet an even less simple thing to ask, especially when the military, the government and nearly everyone in power are almost the same people, is for the army to come to terms with the fact that too many conscripts and cadets have died in suspicious circumstances — three this year and more in the past few years — and something must be done. Unless, of course, such violence — institutional violence condoned and elevated to a point of pride — is the norm, the culture, the standard operating procedure, and death in training is not something to waste time or tears thinking about….

The worst part, however, is that such violence is really the culture…





Military hierarchy and the need for violence

24 11 2017

As readers will know, reports of the unusual deaths of recruits to the Thai military are common. Pictures of naked recruits being forced to engage in degrading activities and other pictures of recruits who have been beaten and bashed are all over social media.

We hadn’t posted on the most recent case, despite its grotesque details, as it was one case among many. However, this case has taken an unusual political turn as the dead recruit and his family had promoted their support of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, the group that supported and encouraged the 2014 military coup. The dead recruit did not come from the draft, but was at the “prestigious” Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.

Prachatai reported that Cadet Phakhaphong Tanyakan may have been beaten to death. At least his parents thought this and secreted away his body for an independent autopsy after the military stated he died of sudden cardiac arrest.

The independent autopsy revealed that several of the cadet’s internal organs were missing, including his brain. The media reported the parent’s shock but then seemed to confirm that returning a body sans organs is “normal” and “not illegal.”

His parents were criticized for wanting another autopsy and not accepting the military’s explanation of his death.

While the junta has now had the “chief of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School has been transferred to an inactive post,” the initial response of the senior-most military thugs was to support “military discipline.” But even in replacing the former commander, the junta showed its intention to cover up by appointing a loyalist: “Col Benjapol Dechartwong Na Ayutthaya, deputy commander of the 21st Infantry Regiment, Queen’s Guard.”

Another Prachatai story had Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan “explaining” the death. He stated that “the freshman cadet … was … just too weak to withstand tough training.” Blaming the victim is the redoubt of fools and fascists.

He also supported the cadet school.

General Prawit also justified the “extreme discipline” at the school. He declared: “all soldiers have had to undergo such disciplinary measures, including himself.” He added: “I was once repaired more than I could take and I fainted too. I didn’t die.” That’s all okay then. Torturing your recruits is fine and dandy and if they die, it is their own weakness.

Prawit also indicated that “extreme discipline” would continue: “You don’t have to enrol. You don’t have to be a soldier. We want those who are willing.” Willing to be bashed, humiliated, and tortured. Those who survive can make coups and get unusually wealthy because they “learn” the hierarchy, accept it and move up, getting more loot and power at each level.

His view was supported by The Dictator, as reported in another Bangkok Post story. With the virtually moribund National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) actually making a statement that “harsh disciplining of cadets could constitute an act of torture…” under a law that is not in effect, Gen Prayuth said military bosses “would meet for talks the family of Pakapong … Tanyakan whose cadaver was later found to be missing organs including his brain.”

Prayuth mumbled that “military discipline for cadet training” was okay. He added: “Don’t worry. Nobody wants any losses or injuries…”. He used the same “logic” as Prawit: “he was disciplined when he studied at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.” He brainlessly added: “What’s wrong with it? I went through it all.”

That explains a considerable amount about Prayuth, Prawit and their dictatorship. Trained to accept torture as “discipline,” they are mentally crippled by their “education” to the extent that they think all Thais need “order” and “extreme discipline.”

On learning that the family were PDRC, Prayuth “apologised to the family and pledged to continue with the investigations to get to the bottom of the mystery.”

It isn’t a “mystery,” it is military discipline, establishing hierarchy and marking territory. The military does this with violence. This is also how they run the country: threats of violence and the use of violence. The deaths of citizens who get in the way is just collateral damage for the greater good and social order.





Observing the funeral

27 10 2017

There’s now a ton of reports about the royal funeral. Much of it involves repetition of the kind of unduly reverential stuff we have posted on of late. Funerals don’t tend to get much critical attention.

While we haven’t looked at every report, one of the most bizarre from the foreign media was an Australian reporter’s effort to find a link with his country. Not the king having been to military school in his country. No, the link to the funeral was found in the horses, said to be from Australia.

Some international reports were visually interesting. A couple mentioned lese majeste, including one at Al Jazeera. Yet this report is schizophrenic in that it is headed by a wholly hagiographical video that is among the most hopelessly useless repetition of palace propaganda we’ve seen. The written report below it is at least a little more insightful. Much better is a BBC report that at least attempts to provide some critical assessment of situation and event (the report is difficult to find at the BBC website, but Andrew MacGregor Marshall provides the link via his Facebook page.

As the BBC report states, many who wanted to attend the funeral were kept out of the area. We assume that many watched the live broadcast of the funeral, which went at a snail’s pace and dragged on all day and night. It concluded by not showing the cremation at about 10 pm. In place of the cremation, well-worn footage of the dead king in the field was shown. Most Thais will have seen these exact images hundreds of times in recent years and more times over several decades.

One thing that was odd about this failure to show the cremation is that the live stream did not advise viewers that it would not be shown (at least that we heard, and we didn’t watch it all). It did repeatedly state the time of the cremation.

The Bangkok Post states: “Live broadcasts were not allowed for the real cremation among the royal family, scheduled to take place at 10pm after another religious rite at 8.30pm at the Song Dhamma Throne Hall.”

One can only wonder as to the reason for this. The cremation was a family event? There’s a taboo about it? Commoners can’t watch such royal events? Or, as some of the more scurrilous social media accounts have it, the  queen, who was not seen during the events of the day (at least not by us), was not to be seen in her sadly incapacitated state.

Whatever the reason, many Thais may well feel that, after a year of official mourning and calls to be “involved” in the funeral, they were short-changed.

Some other events of the funeral deserve mention.

It was noted that the “royal cremation ceremony organising committee” allowed “157,778 people” enter “the Sanam Luang area as of 1pm to attend the royal cremation ceremony.” These people “were separated from the invited VIPs and distinguished guests, who were in the inner area, by fences.” Apart from foreign guests, the VIPs were mostly minor royals, senior bureaucrats and military.

There was some social media discussion of the fact that the (dead) king’s body was not in the ceremonial golden urn. We were bemused by this discussion as this was well-known from the time of his death and reported several times. The urn has become a ceremonial throwback, not unlike the monarchy itself.

We also noticed that all of the officials involved seemed to have the now standard throwback short back and sides military-style haircut that the new king demands of all of his minions.

Meanwhile, we also noticed some of the king’s concubines in full military kit and heard several shouted orders to assembled troops from them. One, presumably (General) Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya, acting as head of the king’s guard, hopping in and out of his several cars as the king went to and from the ceremonial grounds.

The overall image of the funeral was its militarization. The funeral was essentially a military parade, including several iterations of the Colonel Bogey March. The king, all those of the royal family who could, and civilian officials all marched in military style, punctuated by numerous gun salutes from soldiers firing rifles and cannon.

Religious and ceremonial aspects of the funeral were subordinated to its martial tone. The Dictator and the king appear united on Thailand’s military future, just as the dead king appreciated the symbiotic relationship he had with military strongmen.





It feels like 1962

2 10 2017

Back in 1962, General Sarit Thanarat had his boot on the neck of Thailand’s politics. He had taken control of everything, including police and personally meted out “justice” against “communists,” “elected politicians” and others.

In other words, the military dictatorship had strong control over the bureaucracy, the military, the police and over broader society. One academic referred to Sarit’s rule as “despotic paternalism,” but the emphasis was really on despotism.

It feels like that now, and recall that Sarit’s military regime went on for a total of 11 years.

What prompted these observations is the story in the Bangkok Post where it is reported that the Minister for Defense and Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan has is now putting himself in charge of crime-fighting.

He has “ordered widespread crackdowns on mafia gangs to stop them causing trouble to Thai and foreign tourists across the country.”

It seems that the Defense Minister is now controlling Pattaya (which is supposed to have its own administration), “key police agencies, including the Crime Suppression Division and the Immigration Bureau…”.

Following their “success” with political repression, “joint investigation between military officers and local police” will become common.

Nothing will escape the Deputy Dictator: the drug trade, prostitution, extortion, visa overstays, and down to bag snatching. After Pattaya, the Ministry of Defense plans to cover the country.

The militarization of Thailand continues apace.