Arms trading

7 11 2021

Reports of arms trading from within the military are reasonably common but so little is done about it that a cynic might think that it is just another corrupt way for officers to acquire unexplained wealth.

A recent Bangkok Post report is about a “Crime Victims Assistance Club” that “filed a complaint with the House committee on military affairs, asking it to look into a case involving a soldier who allegedly sold army weapons to an illegal arms trafficking gang in a neighbouring country.”

Club chairman Atchariya Ruangrattanapong “said he previously filed a complaint with the army over the matter, and Col Sirichan Ngathong, deputy army spokeswoman, later said the culprit was sacked from the army and now faces legal action and the weapons have been retrieved.”

Nothing to see here (as usual).

Picture from The Nation

However, the army’s “action” seemed to have prevented a full investigation. Atchariya stated that “he believes some senior army officers may have been involved.” What a surprise!

According to Col Sirichan, Atchariya complaint “accused the 9th Infantry Division of dereliction of duty by turning a blind eye to the theft and smuggling of weapons and cars across the border for sale in Myanmar.”

Sounds normal to us, at least by the standards of the military.

Col Sirichan insisted that “anyone found guilty of the crime will face disciplinary punishment and legal action.”

Whoopee! Any charges? Nope, not yet.

But the army seems keen to bury the story. Wonder why?





Regime vs. students

20 10 2021

Over the past 18 months, political conflict has revolved around students opposing the regime and its royalist supporters. The student challenge has waned, in part because of the virus, but also because of the regime’s repression strategy, which has included virus emergency provisions used mostly for political purposes.

Much of the repression has been delegated to the purged police. Of course, the military has also been involved and continues to provide its backing for the regime and monarchy.

Political repression has extended from the streets to universities and to the judicial system. The latter has made heavy use of laws on lese majeste, sedition, computer crimes, public health mandates, and some charges dredged from a feudal Thailand.  For example, in a case from a year ago, several protesters were accused of violating Article 110 of the Criminal Code, which has to do with attempts an act of violence against the queen or the royal heir.  Those charged face 16-20 years’ imprisonment, making this an even more serious crime than lese majeste.

Of course, not one of those charged attempted any violence. But the repression of using the law hangs on, as one of them, Bunkueanun Paothong, explained in a recent op-ed.

In universities, administered by royalists doing the bidding of the regime, struggles continue. Prachatai reports on the royalists at Chiang Mai University where students from the Media Arts and Design Department in the Faculty of Fine Arts have been prevented from showing their final arts projects allegedly because “some pieces deal with social and political themes.” The censorious and fearful royalist Faculty administrators even locked students out of buildings. Some students and their parents are worried that the kids will not be allowed to graduate.

Such actions are common at universities across the country. Thasnai Sethaseree, an artist and Faculty of Fine Arts lecturer observed:

What happened during the past week is a common occurrence in Chiang Mai University, but the people who are affected have never spoken out…. Things like this happen in Chiang Mai University every day. This case like a volcano that will make the lava in other places erupt….

Back in Bangkok, where working class kids are facing off against police, Talugas protesters continue to be pushed into prisons. Thalugas, is causing a royalist stir:

Soldiers will step in to handle political protests only when the situation is considered a rebellion or a riot, Defence Forces chief Gen Chalermpol Srisawat said on Tuesday.

He said the announcement by the Thalu Gas group, now renamed the People’s Revolutionary Alliance (PRA), about aiming to overthrow the constitutional monarchy was a lawful expression of the group’s opinion.

The responsibility of the police is to ensure law and order, he said. So if the group were to act in any way that threatens Thailand’s sovereignty, it would then be time for the military to take action, he said.

While the statement that issuing an anti-monarchist statement is legal might bring some relief, the military defines the monarchy as a matter of “national security,” suggesting that the general’s statement is really a threat. Indeed, the police are already “investigating” a “Facebook page operated by the Thalu Gas group over content related to the monarchy…”.

The police admit they cannot eliminate anti-monarchism. The plan seems to be to silence it with thousands of legal charges and the jailing of hundreds.

The struggle continues.





Military media

11 10 2021

A chilling report at Prachatai suggests that in October 2021 the military’s media is revamping itself for ultra-royalist, extreme rightist agitation, much as it did in 1975-76.

The military’s TV Channel 5 is hiring “four ultra-royalist hosts from Top News … [to] host 7 hours a day … from 3 January 2022.”

The hosts, Kanok Ratwongsakul, Teera Tanyapaibul, Santisuk Marongsri, and Sathaporn Kuasakul, claim they will be “delivering impartial and accurate reports.” That seems unlikely.

Channel 5 or the Royal Thai Army Radio and Television Station is a free-to-air television network owned by the Royal Thai Army, and was launched on 25 January 1958. It is not a particularly popular broadcaster, ranking about 18th in ratings, and one motivation for this rightist move is to increase the broadcaster’s popularity. Becoming bellicosely ultra-royalist is seen as a way to do this.

Lt Gen Rangsi Kitiyanasap, Managing Director of Channel 5, says that the new programming “will provide information that will end the public division and help Thailand out of the economic and health crisis caused by the spread of Covid-19…”. That is code for supporting regime and monarchy.

Lt Gen Rangsi babbled, channeling Fox News:

The goal of presenting news on Channel 5 will emphasize news which is the truth in all aspects, with in-depth detail, and importantly, which does not create division in society, and does not add fuel, but pulls firewood out of the fire. We will be a mainstream media outlet which will not judge who is wrong or right, but presents comprehensive information and lets the people decide….

The general claimed the new contract was with “GMC, with Chaiwat Techapaitoon as Chair of the Executive Board, [and] was a different legal entity from Top News Digital Media Co Ltd, which has Sonthiyan Chuenruthainaitham as its founder.” As Prachatai explains: “Sonthiyan was a right-wing activist and a media entrepreneur whose support helped lead to the killing of red shirt protesters in 2010, the military coup in 2014, and the violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in 2020-2021.”

Military and military-backed media were notorious in the 1970s for their agitation against students and democracy advocates. Sound familiar? Back then, that media promoted the forces who assassinated activists and massacred students at Thammasat University.





Military godfathers and the corruption of parties and politics

26 09 2021

Thai PBS reports on continuing ructions in the Palang Pracharat Party that has Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s underlings pitted against Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. It turns out that the failed plot to unseat Gen Prayuth during the recent censure debate was only round 1 of this fight.

The start of the second round came when plotter and convicted heroin trafficker and “influential person” Thammanat Prompao retained his Party post. It is presumed that General Prawit was behind this. Prawit then doubled-down, appointing “a former Army rival of the PM” as the Party’s new chief strategist. Gen Vitch Devahasdin Na Ayudhya took this “powerful post previously held by the current party leader, Deputy Premier General Prawit…”.

Previously, in 2010, Gen Vitch was assistant Army chief and “was appointed to the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation, which was tasked with handling the red-shirt protests against Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government.”

In that year, Gen Vitch was competing with Gen Prayuth to “succeed outgoing Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda. However, the post was eventually handed to Gen Prayut instead.” This despite Gen Vitch’s long connection with Gen Prawit.

Readers can read the whole story for the details or plow through the most recent post at Secret Siam, which posits a deep and long struggle, including speculation regarding parts played by none other than Thaksin Shinawatra.

One thing is clear: that the rise and rise of the unsavory Thammanat demonstrates how “a powerful political broker” with a criminal past (who knows about the present?) can float to the top through links built through equally unsavory characters in the military (and higher).

The story of Thammanat’s rise is like a Thai version of “The Godfather,” but most of the protagonists are military mafia.

Thai PBS says “Vitch has been close to Gen Prawit since their early years in the Royal Thai Army three decades ago, and reportedly introduced Thammanat to Prawit.” It goes on to say that it was Thammanat who “helped Vitch to get into the ruling party.”

Gen Vitch is open regarding his links to “dark influences,” saying:

he has known Thammanat since the latter worked for his long-time friend Gen Trairong Intarathat. Also known as “Seh Ice”, Trairong once served as an adviser to then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and was described as an influential figure.

So mafia-connected military figures have swirled through various governments for several years. For those who don’t know Seh Ice, his brief obituary says this:

Gen Trairong was born on Sept 1, 1949, the fourth of the four sons of Maj Phone Intarathat, a former director of the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, and ML Kanyaka Suthat.

He was a Class 10 student of the Armed Forces Academy Preparatory School and Class 21 cadet of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in the cavalry division.

His classmates at the Armed Forces Academy Preparatory School included Thaksin, Gen Anupong Paojinda, the current interior minister, ACM Sukumpol Suwanathat, a former defence minister, and Gen Prin Suwanathat, a former transport minister.

He held several important positions in military service, including specialist attached to the Supreme Command, chief of the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence, an army specialist, and chief of staff officers for the defence minister (Gen Thammarak Issarangura Na Ayutthaya).

Not long before he died in 2016, he was identified, along with Thammanat, Seh Ice was identified in a military report as an influential mafia boss:

Two of four people reportedly named as “influential criminal figures” on a military document deny any wrongdoing, saying there is not a shred of truth to the allegation.

“That’s ridiculous, and I’m wondering which [security] people think like that,” former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, said yesterday….

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong and said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, who is alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Capt Thammanat, a former military officer, said he had contacted 1st Division commander, Maj Gen Narong Jitkaew, to ask him about the document and was told the information came from an intelligence report and there were no plans to summon him.

And, here’s an AFP report from 1998, with Thammanat playing a lead role:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara [Thammanat] Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

So many connections, so many charges – none of which have held up in the Thailand. That’s what a mafia system is about and this is how it works. More tellingly, the military continues to reward crooks who slither to the top.

As the Bangkok Post reports, the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School has recognized Thammanat as and outstanding alumnus:

The controversial soldier-turned-politician was nominated for the award this year, but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the usual annual ceremony to present the award to him and other outstanding Afaps alumni has been postponed until next year….

It is said Thammanat has declined the award, but the “honoring” of one of its most corrupt alumni is a telling indictment of a corrupt organization. The military (and police) cannot tell right from wrong, and instills this “value” in its new officer cadets.





With 3 updates: Students vs. the rotten system

13 09 2021

In recent posts, here and here, PPT has mentioned the increasingly aggressive tactics adopted by the regime’s police in confronting mostly young protesters. The police now face determined protesters.

The South China Morning Post reports that police face thousands of protesters – “young, angry and desperate for radical change – [who] come out to oppose a state they have lost all faith in.” Some are as young as 12. These protests are now daily and have a degree of predictability:

Protesters, some armed with paint bombs – the more hardcore among them, sling-shots and glass bottles – retreated then returned, a daily dance on Bangkok’s streets which is now threatening to spill out of control.

Protests now almost inevitably end in tear gas, broken bottles and rubber bullets.

The protesters speak to power and call for change: “No one in power has heard us, no one listens to us, they only intimidate and suppress…. So we will keep coming back.”

Their targets are not just the regime, but the rotten system: “… deepening inequality in a country where a tight-knit establishment of tycoons, military and monarchy dominate the economy and politics.” The quoted protester – aged 16 – says: “Inequality comes from these structural issues, everything is tied up here by monopolies of business and power…”. Her observation is testament to the alienation felt by many in the young generation.

Academic Kanokrat Lertchoosakul observes that:

This generation are a totally different species of political, active citizens that we have never seen before in Thailand…. They are a generation with mass awareness of their political rights and have superior analytical skills to their elders.

Prachatai provides another example of youth activism, reporting on the Bad Student activist group that has “launched a strike campaign to protest against the continuous use of online classes during outbreaks of Covid-19, which has been detrimental to students’ mental health and deprived many of an education.”

They are “demanding that the government provide students, education professionals, and members of the public with high efficacy vaccines as soon as possible so that the education system and the economy can continue.” They also want the Ministry of Education to “reduce tuition fees or impose a tuition fee moratorium, and provide whatever welfare is needed by students and their parents to keep young people in school.”

The group encouraged students “to stop attending [online] classes between 6 – 10 September 2021…” and the brief boycott was quite successful.

Bad Students have also joined the ongoing demonstrations and were there almost from the very beginning, saying: “We don’t want this rotten education system. We don’t want this stinking Minister. But we want our future back, and even better, is an education system that truly improves us…”.

Meanwhile, Thai PBS reports on students and other protesters still held without bail, including “seven core leaders of the anti-government Ratsadon group, who have been held on remand for about a month.” These detainees include Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok, and Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa.

As the SCMP says, “Thailand is on a precipice … its politics once more a tinderbox of anger.”

Update 1: Sorry, we should have noted that the SCMP article was from August whereas the photos are more recent.

Update 2: Three stories at the Bangkok Post add to the analysis of the present moment in protest. In one story, police have said they will bring numerous criminal charges protesters. A second story says that police data is that 509 protesters have been arrested and a further 250 are being sought since the rallies began in July. That story also carries an important quote from Thalugas, welcoming the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration and the Thalufah group as rally “witnesses at the rally by young demonstrators in Din Daeng that evening.” Thalugas “said they should not be left to fight alone.” A third story is about a member of the older generation of protesters, Sombat Boonngamanong. He says: “We are at a crucial moment in democracy development…. This is a time when the ruling authoritarian establishment is trying to suppress the young, democratic generation.” His view is that “the nature of social movements has changed — because more people, especially younger generations, respect democratic values…. They do not tolerate authori­tarianism.”

Update 3: Prachatai reports on arrests in recent clashes. It has also produced a video on Bad Students:





Mafia military dependence

19 07 2021

The regime’s dependence on the military is an addiction to the military’s power. PPT posted on this recently when we observed that it it somehow “natural” that a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, should use the military for civil actions.

A couple of days ago this was reaffirmed in a Bangkok Post report where Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the self-selected prime minister, was said to have “instructed the armed forces and the national police to join hands with City Hall to arrange for more than 200 rapid deployment teams to carry out door-to-door testing for Covid-19 in the worst-hit parts of the city.”

The military and police usually combine and arrive at homes when arresting regime opponents for sedition or lese majeste or when threatening and intimidating the regime’s opponents. So having them show up – in uniform – is threatening and scary for many.

Military repression

Public health maneuvers

And, that’s what it is meant to be as the regime’s aim is aimed “finding and isolating infected people to curb soaring transmissions in the capital…”. It is reported that the “teams will go door to door to offer a free Covid-19 testing service to people.”

“Offer” is not the right word except in the Mafia context of “an offer you can’t refuse.”

Perhaps if the regime had sufficient testing, where people didn’t have to camp out over night, might have been a public health way to do this, but this is a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, skilled in hierarchy and order rather than civil administration.

In addition, it seems that the regime is unable to come up with any sensible idea about how to deal with bed shortages. Again, it takes the military route, with Gen Prayuth ordering the “armed forces to support vehicles and facilities to transport Covid-19 patients from Bangkok and its surrounding areas to return to their home provinces to undergo treatment on a voluntary basis because of bed shortages in the capital and its surrounding provinces.”

“Voluntary” is not the right word except in the Mafia context of “an offer you can’t refuse.”

The regime is addicted to military authoritarianism.





Militarizing the virus

11 07 2021

It it somehow “natural” that a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, should use the military for civil actions.

Despite a mammoth police force and a huge civilian bureaucracy, the Bangkok Post reports that “Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF) commander-in-chief, ordered 88 checkpoints in Bangkok be set up to accommodate the partial lockdown, while another 22 checkpoints were erected in surrounding provinces and 35 more in the four southern border provinces.”

The military’s supreme commander “warned that decisive legal action will be taken against those who break the rules.”

Military boot

We understand that some other countries have mobilized the military in actions related to the virus, but in general terms, it is the civil authorities that retain control and direction of operations.

In Thailand, however, it feels rather different, with the military taking a leading role, as they have in other interventions into civilian space, most notably when coups overthrow civilian governments or when civilian protesters are shot and murdered.

Therefore, it is no surprise to anyone when the military-backed government “naturally” turned to its armed allies for support in a situation of its own creation. Of course, the military loves this kind of action for it is trained and armed for the repression of its own citizens and each time it is seen intervening in civilian affairs it further naturalizes something that should be abnormal.





Gen Prayuth derided

8 07 2021

As the virus situation deteriorates further, there are increased calls for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to go, including this at Thai Enquirer. Frankly, Gen Prayuth should have been jailed in 2014 when he led an illegal coup. Trouble was, he was supported by both monarchy and military, a seemingly difficult combination to defeat.

He’s still got diehard yellow shirt support, but is lampooned on social media and the pressure mounts.

Most recently, Rap Against the Dictatorship have made another powerful music video, deriding the regime and its costly alliance with the monarchy.





Secret money

24 06 2021

A recent story in Thai PBS reveals the secret funds used mainly by the military. Of course, the existence of secret funds has been known and controversial for many years, but this report seeks to remind us of the corruption of parliamentary and budgetary processes by the power of the military.

Vaji's bahtBudget papers are voluminous and the budget vetting committee has limited time to scrutinize it. Even so, the opposition reckons it has found secret budgets worth more than Bt1 billion in the 2022 budget. These are funds allocated to state offices with no stated use. That is, their use is secret.

The budget vetting committee can cut some budget items but cabinet can reinstate them, and the committee can agree or not, but the budget still goes back to parliament. One way the committee can get some action is by drawing attention to some items members consider problematic. That seems to be what’s happening here.

In this case, it is reported that the budget bill “was criticized by both opposition and some government MPs for allocating large unexplained funds for national security and military purchases at a time when COVID-19 is crippling the economy.”

Puea Thai Party deputy leader Yuttapong Charasathien “cited the lack of details available for the budget allocated to several state agencies.” Mostly he refers to the military. The report states:

The Thai Army set Bt290 million for its secret operations, with Bt62 million going to the Navy, Bt30 million to the Air Force, Bt32 million to the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence, and Bt55million to the Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, said Yuttapong who is also a member of the budget vetting committee.

Military money

Add in the 20 million baht allocated to the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, and the security operations account for a secret 427 million baht.

But that’s not all: “Also unexplained is the Bt558 million of spending for the Prime Minister’s Office, which supervises the National Intelligence Agency and National Security Council, who are set to receive cloaked budgets worth Bt232 and Bt50 million respectively.”

That’s at least 750 million baht for secret operations.

Yuttapong asked: “What is the purpose of the secret spending? Is it for information operations [IO] and to monitor opposition activities?” We take that as a rhetorical question.

Other unexplained secret funds go to the Foreign Ministry and Labour Ministry. No one seems to know why these ministries need secret funds.

Yuttapong states: “If agencies cannot explain their need for such funding, it should be cut…”.

Overall, the “national security budget worth Bt387.9 billion, or 12.5 percent of the total budget.” Meanwhile, spending for public health is 306.7 billion baht.





Military, dictators, and money

2 05 2021

There’s a story at something called the Atlas Institute for International Affairs which sounds very 1960s and argues that militaries kept “fed” with taxpayer funds don’t intervene politically. This long discredited notion is in part based on work on Thailand. The fact that coups in Thailand bear no relationship to that military’s ability to grab loot from the taxpayer should alert the authors. Think of “self-coups,” coups against military leaders and other rightists, and, most recently, the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra, when spending on the military increased.

That said, there’s no doubt that Thai military leaders love kit and money. One graph in the Atlas story demonstrates how the military has benefited by sucking the taxpayer of the people’s money.

Military spending

What is clear, is that following the 2006 and 2014 coups, the military has been rewarded and the taxpayer filched. We might also observe that military and military-backed regimes also shovel taxpayer funds to their ally, the monarchy.

The other group that does well following military political interventions is the Sino-Thai capitalist oligarchy and their conglomerates. They get to such at the taxpayer teat via the contracts and concessions doled out by the regimes that reward their loyalty to military and monarchy.

Several times already this group has come to the rescue of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime. And as Prayuth’s mafia coalition struggles with the virus, once again, Thailand’s top business groups “offered to join the government in a mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccination from June as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.”

Gen Prayuth’s faltering vaccine “strategy” has the support of “the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Tourism Council of Thailand,” with special mention made of “[b]illionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group and VGI Pcl…”. VGI is the profitable advertising arm of the Skytrain enterprise owned mostly by the Kanjanapas family.

It seems that these groups plan to not only prop up the regime, but the king’s vaccine company as well:

Thai owners of malls, commercial real estate and industrial parks will provide spaces for vaccination camps once the country receives more vaccines from June, while other businesses will assist in distribution and logistics, communication with the public and procurement of more doses….

The Bangkok Post – which is interlinked with the conglomerates through directors and major shareholders – manages to come up with the outlandish claim that, like frontline health workers, the “men in suits turn saviours,” joining “medical heroes in trying to give [the regime’s] slow vaccination drive a shot in the arm…”. These are, it claims, “a crop of saviours stepping out of their boardrooms to rally behind vaccine procurement and national vaccination efforts…”.

Observing that the “country’s economic powerhouses are being seen as an emerging sturdy force that can help prop up the government…”, the Post doesn’t acknowledge that, so far, they haven’t actually done anything apart from prop up their regime.

Of course, more vaccination is also good for business, so the tycoons are in a win-win-win situation. And, propping up the Gen Prayuth and his limping regime of hucksters, criminals, and thugs, guarantees profits, concessions, and contracts.

Money greases a lot of wheels, but the benefits flow mostly to military, money, and monarchy.








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