Does he protest too much?

23 01 2014

As anyone reading social media on Thailand knows, Navy Seals have been copping plenty of comment on their undercover role apparently working with the anti-democrats. That chatter also has the Seals commander a relative of Suthep Thaugsuban.

True or not, the commander, Rear Admiral Winai Klom-in, seems to be proclaiming his and his Seals just a little too loudly and if  a report at the Bangkok Post is any indication, rather too bizarrely.

Now the military brass often sounds bizarre in denials of things because they are used to saying whatever they like and getting away with it. Even so, Winai is getting the prize for nonsensical denials amounting to admissions. No wonder his boss has told him to shut up.

But back to Winai’s very load complaints and claims.

Winai reckons “he had received intelligence reports that ‘foreigners’ [he means Cambodians] from across the eastern border were transported on Monday in 10 passenger vans in order to instigate violence in Bangkok.” This claim, reminiscent of claims made under the Suthep-Abhisit Vejjajiva regime about red shirts, like back then, has no evidence. It did have a link to Suthep.

Of course, the anti-democrats hate Cambodia and Cambodians (and fear their alleged skill with “black arts”).

Making very similar claims to Suthep & Co. back then, Winai opined: “Those who brought in foreigners to kill Thais should not have been born in Thailand,” and we assume he means, as before, Thaksin Shinawatra. But, no evidence now or then.

But Winai was on a roll:

Winai said he had evidence [but hasn’t made it available to a single person] that during the 2010 political violence, 39 members of “a foreign force” were shot dead during the clashes with security officers and red-shirt protesters had used a refrigerated lorry to remove their bodies from the scene.

This was all a smokescreen for the real story in this:

Rear Adm Winai denied allegations that three members of a Seal team were linked to the recent bomb attacks on the anti-government protesters, as pictures of the perpetrators were released on social networks.

He said the three Seals were not involved as they were at Sattahip naval base when the incidents happened.

[But] Rear Adm Winai admitted he had sent several Seals to the protest sites on missions to suppress foreign drug gangs and protect the protesters amid reports that “foreign forces” could be infiltrating the protest sites.

PPT is still looking for fairies at the bottom of our garden.

He said he has now ordered six of the Seals to withdraw from the protest sites to return to their base at Koh Samae San in Chon Buri.

Right…. now we get it. There weren’t three Seals but six! And they were helping out the anti-democrats. As the admiral explained: “… we’re ready to go there again if we need to look after the people…”.

No, wait, at The Nation it is reported that there was “a 10-member team officially working undercover to gather intelligence and information about the smuggling of drugs from the east to the capital.”

The arrested group had “security cards” from the extremist “Students Network.” Another officer explained this “was necessary for the men to have them to facilitate their investigation at rally sites.”

PPT might be too conspiratorial, but there seems enough smoke here to suggest a raging fire.





Subs torpedoed

6 04 2012

It is confirmed: the navy’s plan to buy used German diesel-powered submarines has been sunk. Earlier PPT posts on the earlier push for the U-boats are here: Give then subs!; Navy submarines resurface; Arms trading and the royals; and Corruption and the military.

But the report at the Bangkok Post also describes some rather disturbing descriptions of how decisions are made in the military:

A navy source said the proposed project had faced several stumbling blocks. First, there was a rumour the navy and the Defence Ministry had forwarded the plan to His Majesty the King for consideration. The navy still remembered His Majesty’s advice made in his remarks on the eve of his birthday in 2007. The King said submarines might not be suitable for Thailand as the underwater vessels could be bogged down in mud in the Gulf of Thailand.

But Supreme Commander Tanasak Patimapakorn strongly denied the rumour. “Rumour is rumour. His Majesty was never involved in this issue,” he said in a meeting with armed forces commanders at the navy head office on March 13.

A navy source said the rumour was spread as a tactic to block the plan to buy the German submarines.

Of course, the king was involved. Indeed, for some time, the king wasknown to be opposed to the navy having a submarine but seemed to change his mind following the coup. In his 2007 birthday speech, the king was cited on Russian subs: “A Russian one may cost just half the price of a German-made or a US-made one, but if we bought one from Russia, the US, for instance, might be upset. However, Russian submarines are very good.”* The story continues:

Then, it was believed that Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda did not give the green light to the project and the plan was also attacked by many former and present navy officers who were disappointed at seeing themselves stranded or moved to unfavourable positions in the military reshuffle last year.

While the navy chief has finally admitted the project is at an end, PPT can only wonder at the notion that significant decisions about strategic matters and involving millions upon millions of baht are somehow consigned to the purview of men with no known skills, training or expertise.

*Interestingly, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is about to be has just been sentenced in the U.S. after his capture in Thailand and extradition to the U.S.  For the alleged royal link, see PPT’s link to a New York Times article.





Navy submarines resurface

23 01 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Royal Thai Navy wants to buy two second-hand submarines at a cost of 6-7 billion baht.” This is a new take on a story that keeps coming back. For PPT’s first mention of it, see here (also see this), but the desire for underwater goes deeper than this.

The PAD preferred option on a used sub

It is great news (perhaps) to know that the “navy has set up a committee to conduct a feasibility study.” The odd thing, without such a study the greedy sailors seem to want Cabinet to approve the funds “in principle.” Picking up second hand submarines is not as simple as buying a Mercedes (preferred land transport of navy commanders in Thailand), unless the official pirates want one of these. And we trust these submariners-to-be have read this important post.

The navy brass wants subs, this time, because they want “Thai sailors have little knowledge of submarine technology, which is constantly upgraded.” Have the captains been spending too much time with bottles of rum? They say: “We are still backwards in terms of submarine technology.” That sounds odd to us: they don’t have any subs but they need to be familiar with them, so buy some. Circular logic (or lack thereof)? However, the rum gurglers are thinking of the country because they only want used subs at 6-7 billion baht because the current government has been dishing out money trying to win an election sometime in the future repairing the economy.

To be serious, however, this is a story that has been about for a considerable time, and has a royal connection and a link to Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer. And, we recognize that buying used submarines can be a way of training crews for a serious purchase (but is Thailand able to consider a serious purchase?).

Thai navy purchases - like an aircraft carrier - sometimes are as useful as this submarine

Siam Voices has a useful take on the story, pointing out that the navy is keen to get German Type 206 diesel-electric submarines that were designed for use in relatively shallow waters (important for the Gulf of Thailand). Submarines have  topped the navy’s wish list for some time.

Some would suggest that the rise of China’s blue water navy is causing a mini-arms race amongst Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia has French submarines and the Singaporeans have several Swedish submarines. Burma seems interested in a submarine, but hasn’t progressed a deal with North Korea, the Philippines doesn’t have submarines, and Cambodia’s navy only uses patrol boats. The Indian navy has some 15 Russian-designed and German-designed submarines. Vietnam has 6 Russian-built submarines and Indonesia has similar vessels and German-built submarines also. It is claimed that “Thailand had four Japanese-made submarines in the past, but they were never replaced after decommissioning because newer models were too expensive.”

While there may be an arms race going on, there is also a plan to invest more in the Thai armed forces. There’s no doubt that a major motivation in this – said to be costing up to 400 billion baht – is a desire to defeat domestic political opposition, including southern insurgents and (currently) red shirts (as pointed out in the Post story). Hence, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is a supporter of his backers.

Perhaps the stumbling block for the navy’s subs is not just cost but also the king’s stated opposition several years ago. As usual, until he withdraws his objections, then the deal is likely to stagnate, along with the under-the-table commissions that come with all these arms deals.





Updated: Arms trading and the royals

20 08 2010

Update: Fascinatingly, the New York Times story now posted has removed all of the references to royal advisers…. Of course, there could be several reasons for this change. Because of the change, we include all of the original article below our original post.

***

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a really interesting account of the court appearance of alleged Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. He notes that a Thai court has ordered Bout’s extradition to the United States as he is “suspected of running a large-scale arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.”

Then it begins to get interesting. Fuller says that “Russia, which had been seeking to prevent Mr. Bout from being placed in the American legal system, reacted angrily to the ruling.” Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister,said: “Based on the information we have at our disposal, the decision was made under very strong outside pressure. This is lamentable.” Obviously some of that outside pressure has to do with the US.

It has never been clear why Bout was in Thailand. Fuller sheds some light on this matter, drawing on the court case. He says:

One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court, but Captain Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, Mr. Bout’s lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout indeed traveled to Thailand to take part in a project tied to the royal family, his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

Speculation about the navy being in search of a submarine has been about for several years. However, submarines for the navy were one project sunk under the Thaksin Shinawatra government. Following the 2006 coup, discussion of navy subs re-emerged. In November 2007, the navy said getting a submarine was its top priority. Indeed, for some time, the king was said to be opposed to the navy having a submarine but seemed to change his mind following the coup. In his 2007 birthday speech, the king is cited on Russian subs: “A Russian one may cost just half the price of a German-made or a US-made one, but if we bought one from Russia, the US, for instance, might be upset. However, Russian submarines are very good.”

Earlier, in 2005, the king had appointed Admiral Chumpon Pajjasanon, a former Navy commander-in-chief, to the privy council. Before being “named Navy commander-in-chief in October 2003, he had served as commander of the RNV Tong Pliu, RNV Phra Thong and RNV Tapi, chief of combat operations, deputy chief of staff for submarines, commander of Coastal Defence District 3 and Navy chief of staff.”

PPT wonders if there is something in the NYT story? If so, extraditing Bout to the US for trial could result in some embarrassing revelations.

The original NYT story:

BANGKOK – A Thai court on Friday ordered the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman suspected of running a massive arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.

The decision, which overturns a lower court’s ruling in August 2009, is a victory for the Obama administration, which this week summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to the State Department to “emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States,” a spokesman said.

U.S. prosecutors say Mr. Bout, 43, commanded a fleet of aircraft to send weapons to rebel groups and warring countries around the world. He was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation two years ago.

Mr. Bout stood after the ruling was announced and embraced his wife and daughter, who wept. He said nothing to reporters in the courtroom as he was being led out in leg irons and an orange prison uniform. The court ordered his extradition within three months.

Mr. Bout’s lawyers had argued that the request to extradite Mr. Bout was part of a pattern of the United States reaching beyond its borders to punish its enemies. Chamroen Panompakakorn, Mr. Bout’s principal lawyer, alluded to the rendition of suspected terrorists by the U.S. government and argued that the overall credibility of the United States government had been tarnished following the failed search for weapons of mass destruction Iraq.

A panel of judges in August 2009 sided with the defense and wrote in their decision that Mr. Bout’s “guilt cannot be determined in Thailand.”

The court on Friday did not contradict this but said there was enough evidence to extradite Mr. Bout to the United States.

“This case has to be further pursued in a court in the United States that has jurisdiction,” said Siripan Kobkaew, one of three judges who read parts of the decision on Friday.

Mr. Bout’s notoriety helped spawn the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” and his arms dealings are detailed in “Merchant of Death,” a book by two American journalists who describe Mr. Bout’s dealings as falling into a “legal gray area that global jurisprudence has simply failed to proscribe.” Mr. Bout has delivered weapons into Africa and Afghanistan, among other places, but has also flown missions for the U.S. Pentagon in Iraq and the United Nations. Sometimes Mr. Bout was hired to fly in arms to a particular group, the authors note, and then was paid by the U.N. to deliver humanitarian aid to the same area.

Mr. Bout was arrested in March 2008 at a hotel in Bangkok after agreeing to sell millions of dollars worth of arms to undercover agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It remains unclear why Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand. One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court but Capt. Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand to take part in a royal-related project his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

The case has put Thailand in the awkward position of referee between Russia and the United States. Thailand is one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia but Bangkok’s relations with Russia have warmed considerably since the end of the Cold War. The country’s beach resorts have become a major draw for Russian tourists looking to escape the long winters.

The case has offered a window into the scale of arms trafficking. During the meeting in March 2008, Mr. Bout told the undercover U.S. agents that he could deliver 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 assault weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, land mines, C-4 explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the U.S. indictment.

United States prosecutors filed fresh charges against Mr. Bout in February alleging that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, sought to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in 2007 using front companies. The sale was in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions and was blocked.





Sealing Siriraj (and Bangkok)

12 03 2010

All television stations are reporting the huge efforts to block red shirt protesters from entering Bangkok. It seems that relatively few have made it to Bangkok so far, although there are lots of reports of people moving along the highways in the direction of the capital and many will not travel until Saturday. None of the television reports on blocking the red shirts make any mention of this infringement of basic rights. Peua Thai Party parliamentarian Surachet Chaikosol is cited in the Bangkok Post (12 March 2010) as saying the government’s attempt to block United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship supporters from travelling on waterways [from Ayudhya] to Bangkok breaches the right to peaceful assembly.

From the same report, there is more on the sealing of Siriraj hospital, where the navy has increased security on waterways. “Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who heads a peace-keeping centre set up under the Internal Security Act, has appointed navy chief Kamthorn Pumhirun to be in charge of providing protection in and around Siriraj Hospital where His Majesty the King is receiving treatment.

The navy says it has “four companies of naval officers and subordinates, along with police officers, deployed around the hospital. Naval patrol vessels would be on guard on the Chao Phraya River around the clock. It added that the waterways from Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) to Bangkok Noi were designated restricted areas.

The piers at Siriraj hospital, Wang Lang, Phrachan, Royal Thai Navy Club, Royal Thai Naval Institute, Niwes Woradit and Ratchaworadit would only accept regular passenger ferries and all other vessels must obtain permission to use the piers.

Roads near the hospital that have been designated “off-limits to traffic include a section of Phran Nok Road from Fai Chai intersection to Phran Nok pier, Arun Amarin Road from Arun Amarin bridge to the Royal Thai Navy head office, Issaraphap Road from Pho Sam Ton intersection to Bangkok Noi railway station.

Quite a show of fear for the king.









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