“Evidence” for an “assassination” plot

22 03 2017

The assassination story, already remarkable, is becoming increasingly stunning for its contradictions.

The Bangkok Post reports: that the junta has now “found” a “movement” working against it and called it “Red Radio.” It claims it has been “for several months been planning to assassinate Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon…”.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said “Red Radio” had also been “working to stifle the authorities’ efforts to investigate Wat Phra Dhammakaya by causing unrest there…”.

No one could possibly believe that the junta’s own efforts at Wat Dhammakaya could have caused any unrest there.

Pol Gen Srivara said his lot are “now seeking arrest warrants for six people who are suspected of being involved in the group including red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, who goes by the alias Kotee and is believed to have taken refuge in neighbouring Laos.”

That seems to be six in addition to the nine already arrested. (We are surprised that they have not been paraded yet, although that usually awaits the passing of seven days in military custody somewhere secret.

Then a claim that it is “not clear whether the group has ties to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…”.

The police claim is that “Red Radio” “aims to kill Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit and had been told to attack military, police and other officials during the authorities’ raids on the temple, according to the police investigation.”

And the evidence is….

Our investigation has shown that several of the suspects, detained previously, were spotted at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and nearby Khlong Luang central market, for reasons unknown….

As police investigators have found no link between Mr Wuthipong or Red Radio and the temple, they believe the group’s main goal has been to stir up unrest during the authorities’ operations there….

Yes, that’s “no links,” none, zilch.

The temple itself has “denied any involvement with Mr Wuthipong or the group.”

And, The Dictator is playing down the Wat Dhammakaya link: “Gen Prayut said he was more concerned about the alleged assassination plots and the seizure of weapons of war.” He’s also playing down the size of the “plot,” saying it was small.

Previous reports stated that police said “some of the seized weapons had been taken from soldiers during the violent red-shirt political rallies in mid-town Bangkok in 2010.”

Now, Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said just one “M16 rifle seized at the weekend has been confirmed to be among the state weapons stolen during the red-shirt protest … in April 2010.”

The story is changing and the evidence is flimsy, but the junta seems rattled.





Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.





King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.





What a story!

20 03 2017

The junta’s minions have come up with a remarkable story regarding the weapons “seized” in Pathum Thani.

In our earlier post we did express some skepticism about the report and added a note about Thai Rath saying the weapons were for an assassination plot. We expressed skepticism about that claim as well.

There has been a lot of skepticism, and not just from us. (The yellow-shirted royalists and anti-democrats believe all the stories.)

So the junta has come up with a story of a “plot” that suggests a remarkable effort to weave together a range of moral and political panics by the junta and among its anti-democratic supporters.

We cannot say that there is nothing in the “plot” claims – after all, all “plots” have to have some aspect to them that will convince true believers to believe. However, the royalists and anti-democrats have concocted a remarkable number of plots over the past decade to justify their political actions. Think of the Finland Plot, the infamous republican plot diagram and the “Khon Kaen model.” None of these has ever been shown to be other than a political concoction.

More recently, there was the claimed republican plot to murder The Dictator. We mention this, because it seems that the junta is using this to weave its current plot:

Police believe the huge cache of mostly military weapons retrieved on Saturday were intended to be used against authorities who had laid siege to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, including a plot to kill Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Add to this remarkable aggregation of Wat Dhammakaya and a plot to assassinate The Dictator, the weapons are located at a “house linked to hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee.” Then stir in a claim that “some of the seized weapons had been taken from soldiers during the violent red-shirt political rallies in mid-town Bangkok in 2010.”

Even the words in that quote are meant to reinforce the notion that red shirts are still “violent” and a political problem.

The cops reckon that the “weapons were being prepared for a potential attack against officers that had surrounded and were searching Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani’s Khlong Luang district…” and “were prepared to ‘harm or assassinate’ … Gen Prayut…”.

A police chief says that something he called “[a]n investigation” that “found people in Kotee’s group were preparing to use weapons to assassinate the government’s leading figures including Gen Prayut…. We found a rifle with a scope. We guarantee that this is not to shoot at birds but was going to be used to assassinate the leader of the country…”.

That’s a remarkably frivolous piece of evidence gathering and imaginative supposition.

He goes on: “If the government uses forces to suppress people in Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the armed group would be ready to help the temple and hurt officers.”

Evidence? It seems that “police and the DSI have always suspected that political groups have operated in Wat Phra Dhammakaya and intelligence from both agencies points to allegations they had tried to cause unrest.” Confirming this for the authorities, “[0]fficials found people in Mr Wuthipong’s network had been entering and leaving the temple prior to the siege and had been meeting him in the neighbouring country [Cambodia].” In fact, of the nine people so far arrested, the police say “[o]ne … was found to have showed up to the temple before…”.

It is a flimsy story. But there’s more: “Pol Gen Chakthip [Chaijinda] said Mr Wuthipong has played a role in inciting people to fight against the monarchy, and he is a supporter of Wat Phra Dhammakaya.”

And still more: The nine “suspects” had “joined the 2010 red-shirt political rally in central Bangkok.” The implication that the public is meant to draw from this is that the suspects might be “men in black.”

So far there’s red shirts, republicanism, Wat Dhammakaya, assassination, war weapons, men in black and monarchy involved in the plot. What more could there be? How about the frustration of the regime unable to extradite those they hate?

While Ko Tee has denied the arms belonged to him, the cops admit he’s been on the run since early 2014 (not since the coup as we said in our earlier post). “Pol Gen Chakthip said police had tried to contact … Cambodia … for Mr Wuthipong’s extradition, but had received no helpful reply.”

Now the police can claim that Ko Tee “allegedly played a leading role in gathering weapons to support the temple and as such must be considered a threat to national security…”. This “plot” will presumably help with gaining his extradition.

The next step for the police will be to parade the “suspects” before the media where they will presumably admit their guilt and “confirm” the “plot.” They may even be made to re-enact some “crime.” That’s the pattern.





Further updated: Another miracle of the law?

19 03 2017

Readers will certainly know that the supposed taxes now deemed by the military regime as due from Thaksin Shinawatra are to be collected by a secret measure officially described as a “miracle of law.”

Another miracle of law seems to have been seen. Immediately after the 2014 military coup, red shirt Wuthipong Kachathamakul also called Ko Tee took off, fleeing charges that included lese majeste. That latter charge originated from the period of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and under huge pressure from the military and royalists.

Prominent among those calling for Ko Tee’s arrest was General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He had been verbally sparring with Ko Tee for some time.

In the new “miracle,” the Bangkok Post reports that a military and police search of Ko Tee’s house resulted in a “large number of explosives, weapons, rounds of ammunition and other items were seized…”.

The media and the yellow-shirt anti-democrat social media lit up, expressing gratitude that the miracle provided further “evidence” of red shirt violence and skulduggery.

The Post “revealed” that “Wuthipong was not there when a combined team of police and soldiers searched the two-storey house, which also serves as the office of Thai Max Group Co, run by the red-shirt leading member in this central province…”. Well, yes, but….

Later the Post “reveals” that for “three years, Ko Tee, a hardcore red-shirt co-leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), has not been living in the Pathum Thani house where he reportedly ran a community radio station.”  Well, yes, but….

Finally: “He has been on the run since the May 22, 2014 coup and was wanted on a number of charges, including lese majeste.” Well, yes, that’s quite a long-winded way of getting to the point.

The police and military “detained a man who was a caretaker of the house for questioning.”

As can be seen in this photo, clipped from the Bangkok Post, it can be seen that the authorities, in displaying the weapons and explosives they claim to have discovered have a link to red shirts.

Why a miracle now? Why three years after Ko Tee fled?

Is it that the authorities got new “intelligence”? Nothing stated so far.

Is it, as has been the case in the past, the junta feels a little pressure, and feels the need to “remind” people of the reason for the coup?Almost certainly.

Is it because the junta has faced an excoriation for its human rights failure?Perhaps.

Is it because the anti-democrats have been complaining about the junta’s failures? Perhaps.

Men in black are back? Perhaps.

Do they want to show that red shirts are still threatening to the elite and anti-democrats? Almost certainly.

It really is a miracle.

Update 1: We can now more or less express disbelief on this story. Thai Rath reports that the military is saying that the cache of “newly discovered” weapons were meant to be used against The Dictator. Forgive our incredulity, but if one was an assassin, such a cache of arms would hardly be required unless a rebellion was planned. If a rebellion was planned, the “rebels” must be as dumb as they come, hiding weapons in a red shirt’s house, which they might assume is under surveillance. If it wasn’t under surveillance then the cops and military are as dumb as they come. But, who would be planning rebellion? We could hope, but there’s been no obvious reason for hope.

Update 2: The junta has been forced to deny that this “discovery” of weapons was a set up. Junta flunkie Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd stated that “the operation followed a lengthy investigation and intelligence operation.” When reporters noted how new many of the weapons seemed, Sansern reckoned this was because they had been well protected and well hidden. Right….

Sansern declared that “the seized items would be  kept and used whenever the regime needed another set up as evidence for further investigations to nail the culprits because possessing such war materials was detrimental to national security.”

Then, somewhat compromising his “explanation,” Sansern “said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had instructed officials to look for those who were involved and take appropriate legal action.” So we should assume that the “lengthy investigation and intelligence operation” followed weapons but failed to finger those responsible for the weapons cache? Right….





Updated: Going after grannies

9 03 2017

The junta doesn’t discriminate when attacking and repressing its opponents. Age, gender and location are no barriers to repression.

Over the past couple of days, it seems the military dictatorship has turned its attention to repressing grannies.

A story at Prachatai reports that 20 villagers in Udornthani have ended a court case by pleading “guilty for violating the junta’s public gathering ban for supporting a referendum monitoring campaign.”

They could not afford to fight the case, so decided to plead guilty. Eight of the villagers are aged over 60 and several suffer chronic illnesses.

The “Udon Thani Military Court ruled that 20 villagers from Sakon Nakhon province were guilty of violating NCPO Head Order 3/2015, the junta’s ban on public assemblies of five people or more.”

The military court “sentenced the villagers to 1 month in jail each and fined each 5,000 baht” but reduced this “to a 2,500 baht fine and a 15 day suspended jail term” after the guilty pleas.

The case came “after the villagers took a photo with a banner from the Anti-Electoral Fraud in the Referendum Centre, the constitutional referendum monitoring centre run by the red-shirt movement.”

The junta and its military thugs considered them scary red shirt grannies. How low can the junta go? Very, very low.

Prachatai points out that:

During last year’s referendum, at least 143 people across eight provinces were prosecuted for violating NCPO Head Order 3/2015 after joining Anti-Electoral Fraud in the Referendum Centre’s campaigns. 74 of them decided to sign an agreement promising not to participate in any political activity in exchange for an end to their prosecution. Some pled guilty in courts to have their sentence reduced.

The arrests were a means of deterring anyone who considered the “referendum” somehow real and wished to participate in any way other than agreeing with the junta’s “constitution.”

That “approved” charter has since undergone changes and is still not approved by the king (he’s busy undoing royal titles for monks). It was meant to herald and “election,” and that is being delayed again and again so that the junta can further consolidate its position.

Update: Another Prachatai story notes that the military junta has “celebrated” International Women’s Day by pressing charges against seven women who are villagers opposing a local gold mine in Loei Province. The report states:

On 16 November last year, Ponthip Hongchai led 150 villagers in a protest at Khao Luang Subdistrict Administration Office where local officials were revising a request from Thungkham Limited, a gold-mining company, to extend its mining license. The protesters urged the office to immediately end the revision process.

On 18 December, a police officer accused Ponthip and six other female villagers of violating the junta’s ban on public assembly. 16 officials at the administration office also accused the six of coercing them into cancelling the revision process.

The seven will be summoned again on 30 March to hear whether a general-attorney [attorney-general] will indict them.

The Tungkum Company has had significant regime support and the junta see the villagers as having support from anti-regime activists.





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.