The army and cabinet

8 09 2010

PPT readers may remember that we posted some time ago on the military’s budget requests that included funding for the amazing APC deal, where we commented on the lack of transparency on military spending when the army sought approval to buy an additional 121 armoured personnel carriers from the Ukraine while yet to receive any of the 96 vehicles it ordered three years ago from the same manufacturer three years earlier. The APCs hadn’t been delivered because the motors overheat and seize. So the army’s response was … order more. General Anupong Paojinda was said to want the deal done before he retired.

The deal is back in the news because it has just been approved by the Cabinet. The reports of the Cabinet’s decision-making are intriguing different in The Nation and the Bangkok Post.

The Nation reports that Cabinet “approved an Army bid to buy 100 armoured personnel carriers from Ukraine in a government-to-government purchase deal.” Note that it is 121 in the earlier report (above). That earlier report claimed the deal was worth 4.6 billion baht, and The Nation breathlessly says that the ministers “spent more than half an hour questioning representatives from the Army and discussed problems regarding the purchase of BTR-3EI wheeled APCs before giving it the green light.” Wow! More than 30 minutes on an opaque deal for the army when an earlier deal, also worth billions looks like a fizzer. It is good to know that the ministers took this huge expenditure so very seriously at about  133 million baht a minute.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is reported to have “asked the Army representatives why Germany did not sell to Ukraine the Deutz engine that was originally specified in the purchase deal, according to a Government House source. The prime minister also asked whether the contract could be scrapped if vehicles with the new engine … did not pass Army tests.”

Apparently the army “told ministers that the German government decided not to sell Deutz engines to Ukraine for the APCs because of Berlin’s policy of not selling armament to any country subject to political unrest, according to the source.” That could be the Ukraine although Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwannakiri “said he had learned that a Muslim organisation had asked Germany not to sell the engines for the APCs because the vehicles could be used in suppression of Muslims in Thailand’s deep South,” suggesting that Thailand’s political unrest is the reason.

Undeterred though, the army claimed a recent test showed the MTU engine was of better than the Deutz engine [both are German engines], although not one APC has shown up in Thailand as far as we know. Apparently the contract allowed the army “to cancel the deal if any of the delivered vehicles did not meet standard requirements.” The army can’t do that on the earlier deal (even if the same contract terms apply) because no APC has been delivered. PPT wonders if the German position is general or just one company?

The Bangkok Post puts a whole different spin on the story, making Abhisit sound like a prime minister willing to stand up to those potentially corrupt men in green: “… Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voiced strong concern over several issues with the purchase.”

The key change is said to be the purchase of US engines instead of Germany’s Deutz BF 6m015. Matichon reports several engine types: Deutz BF 6m015, MTV 6Ri06TD 21, Allison MD 3066, Allison MD 3200sp. The Deutz and MTV engines only come up as a model in Thai websites. PPT thinks MTV should be MTU. The Allison models appear to be transmissions. In all of this, PPT thinks the change is not to US engines but an MTU powerplant with an Allison transmission. We only go through this to show how a 30 minute discussion must have been insufficient.

But that doesn’t stop the government and Post painting Abhisit as a pillar of good governance because he “fired several questions at army staff, in particular asking why Germany had refused to sell engines to Thailand for the APCs.” He’s worried about image more than 4-5 billion baht, perhaps. It is added that “Abhisit was concerned about the transparency of the contract and whether it was necessary…”. Really? No, because “The prime minister is concerned because he wants good reasons for the public to understand why Germany won’t sell us their engines. This does not concern the engine change, but rather deals with the image of Thailand…”. Image is the issue, not transparency or good governance.

The ever so dull acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn “said Germany refused to sell the Deutz engines because of the European Union’s policy not to supply weaponry to countries where human rights, border and ethnic problems exist to prevent the weapons being used for violent suppression.” But MTU engines are from Germany…. Panitan said this compared with “Britain’s refusal to sell fighter jets to Indonesia for use in East Timor” [when the Indonesians were engaged in genocide], “the US’s decision not to supply weapons to Pakistan and Germany’s previous rejection of Thailand’s request to buy an aircraft carrier.” Great company Thailand now keeps.

And, no parliamentary scrutiny of any of the changes.

Bottom line is that for all of Abhisit’s posturing, the whole deal got 30+minutes and was approved. The military gets what it desires. Abhisit owes the generals big time.

Deutz BF 6m015 เป็น MTV 6Ri06TD 21 และเครื่องเปลี่ยนความเร็ว จากเดิม Allison รุ่น MD3066 เป็น Allison รุ่น MD3200sp

Abhisit, monarchy and Chavalit

20 04 2010

As PPT noted in an earlier post, there has been considerable government and yellow shirt opposition to Puea Thai Party leader General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh seeking an audience with the king on the current political crisis. The Bangkok Post (20 April 2010) has reported on an intensification of the criticism.

As might be expected, royalists come out to claim “their king” for themselves and their own political purposes. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came up with the obvious malarkey about “[i]nvolving the royal institution with politics is inappropriate…”. Of course, when his side of politics does it, that’s just fine. Abhisit claimed to speak for everyone when he said: “I believe members of the public agree with me that it would not be appropriate to involve the royal institution in politics.” He added that, “Many sides doubt the intentions [of Gen Chavalit]…”. His side anyway, although we should add that PPT believes that there should be no royal intervention. Abhisit, however, has a track record of involving the monarchy in politics. Deputy prime ministers Suthep Thaugsuban, Trairong Suwannakiri and Sanan Kachornprasart also attacked Chavalit.

Abhisit then went further and claimed that “Chavalit’s statement showed that he could be masterminding all the anti-government activities. The target was beyond a call for a House dissolution.” He is accusing Chavalit of republicanism. This is an interesting claim, and can be taken back to rumors in the late 1980s that Chavalit was disliked in the palace and believed to be a closet republican for his statements about Thailand’s need of a “revolutionary council” (sapha patiwat) in 1987.

None of this stops the government and its yellow-shirted backers from using the monarchy to support their own struggle to stay in power.

There are three interesting and longish footnotes to this story that are kind of royal related. The first relates to a Bangkok Post (20 April 2010) report that the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation has appointed “Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, director of the Justice Ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science” to CRES. Porntip has long been close to the palace and is usually described as “a respected forensic expert” but who actually has a very thin record (see, for example,  Siam Report). She does have a strong record of being involved in politically-motivated investigations. PPT assumes that one of her roles at CRES will be to support the government’s position on the 10 April killings.

The second footnote relates to another Bangkok Post report that the site of almost all of Thailand’s major demonstrations and of the killing and maiming on 10 April is going to be closed to further demonstrations. The reactionary Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department “has proposed registering Ratchadamnoen Avenue as an historical site…”. The reason? “Giving it an historical identity would mean heavy jail terms and fines for anyone who damages any of the properties along the avenue or who illegally trespasses on it.” The Department added that “People can still rally along the avenue but they will face legal action if they cause any damage.” PPT wonders if the government would have to pay for damage. After all, it is the government that usually shoots these monuments up.

The palace has been gradually closing bits of the broader area to demonstrators for some time. For example, the small plaque commemorating the 1932 Revolution at the Royal Plaza has been the site of a tug-of-war with the palace.

The third footnote refers to a report in The Nation on the Cabinet’s decision to appoint “the wife of the colonel in charge of dispersing red-shirt protesters at Phan Fa on April 10 as an advisor to the prime minister.” It stated that “Nisha Hirunburana, director of Central Administrative Office, Science and Technology Ministry, was made an advisor for social affairs for the prime minister…”.

As readers will recall, Colonel Romklao Thuwatham’s death while in charge of some of the troops charged with suppressing the red shirt demonstration on 10 April caused a flurry of media reports and tributes. Indeed, both the queen and crown prince attended his funeral. This was a sign of respect for a soldier close to the palace and a statement of palace support for the government’s repression of the red shirts.

Abhisit’s symbolic gesture is a call to unity and for support for the government from an army now seen as riven and, hence, unreliable.

With 3 updates: Yellow-shirted responses

12 04 2010

Many of the yellow-shirt related blogs have been full of conspiracies, fantastic concoctions, third hands and calls for tougher government action against the hated red shirts. As a summary of this sometimes bloodthirsty, sometime bizarre expressions of hate and fear, nothing seems to top Sopon Onkgara’s latest op-ed in The Nation.

The propaganda battle continues, with the government offering a particular conspiracy theory of “terrorists” bent on bringing down the monarchy, and this is beginning to be repeated in the media and diplomatic circles, giving it credence it ill deserves. At the same time, diatribes like Sopon’s assume that his readers already accept these versions of events and peddle a hatred that mirrors the most extreme right-wing attacks on students and other protesters back in 1975 and 1976.

Under the headline “Thaksin’s red shirts upgrade campaign to terrorism,” Sopon has immediately supported Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s position. He then states: “Among the crazed red shirts were men armed with weapons such as M16 and AK47 assault rifles, M79 grenade launchers and hand grenades. Their targets were the soldiers.” PPT has to say that the evidence for these claims is still very thin. We do not doubt that there were armed people amongst the red shirts, but looking at the images shows that some pictures are being heavily recycled and that the overwhelming majority of fighting between the red shirts and the soldiers clearly shows the latter armed to the teeth facing people using sticks and rocks.

The authorities were heavily armed but Sopon makes it sound like they weren’t: “It was a lop-sided battle from the start.” His own story is illogical: he says the “soldiers were instructed by their commanding officers not to use firearms except to defend themselves.” But when they are attacked with weapons that appear to be war weapons, he says they don’t fight back, because there are no “secure positions.” He ignores the facts: the majority of casualties were sustained by the red shirts.

But Sopon wants a frenzy of hatred. He says that the “red-shirt leaders have lived up to their vow. They intend to upgrade their fight into a free-for-all against government forces. Terrorism has become their means to achieve victory. No more attempts to hide the hidden agenda under false claims of peace and ahimsa.” For Sopon, there are “urban terrorists” at work within the red shirts, and he had “expected” these terrorists “to show their menace once confrontation with government troops occurred. They chose the time well, right after dusk, when they covered their heads with hoods and selected their targets with minimal discrimination.” Yes there are a few pictures of hooded people with weapons and some pictures of muzzle flashes from roof tops and one of a shot from ground level. But, this proves little. All of the autopsies done so far are suggesting that the red shirts killed were shot with high-powered weapons that the military uses.

Sopon blames the government for not giving the military commanders full reign: “It was wrong from the beginning when Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in charge of security affairs, took command of operations instead of delegating the task to a commanding general.” Sopon hates Suthep because he hasn’t been tough enough and because he doesn’t understand that the red shirts are all gullible fools: “After peace was restored [last April], instead of taking tough legal action against the ringleaders and preventive measures such as an active media campaign to educate the gullible victims of propaganda (and money distributed by the cronies of Thaksin Shinawatra) the government did virtually nothing until the revival of the red shirts.” He wants the red shirts leaders imprisoned and the keys thrown away; for him they are traitors.

But back to the terror angle: “The red shirts have become a real force of terror in the city this year. They roam the streets on motorcycles, in pickup trucks and other vehicles including taxis and tuk-tuks. They are menacing, spoiling for blood, and will react with senseless brutality if provoked.” We are not sure that Sopon and PPT have been in the same city. This has certainly not been our experience and indeed, as we reported earlier, the red shirt rallies have been, until the past few days, wholly good-natured.

Sopon hates the red shirts, who he says “remind many people” – we assume Sopon at least – “of thugs in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Somalia. They are a brute force…. They are bloodthirsty political thugs, paid well to serve masters who are crooks seeking political power.” Sopon has always considered that every red shirt, all the millions of them, are in the pay of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Seemingly hysterical, Sopon charges the “chiefs of the armed forces and the defence minister” as suffering “total indifference, if not ignorance, towards a crisis which is threatening to lead the country into anarchy. None offered to take responsibility for the failure and fatalities.” Expecting more attacks on “government premises,” Sopon says this amounts to “full-blown treason with terrorism.”

Sopon essentially calls for blood: “Prime Minister Abhisit has a few choices left. If he wants to survive this snowballing terror, he must delegate authority to the military to take action and deal with the red shirts by whatever means to restore law and order, with martial law as the last resort.” Whatever means necessary because the whole establishment is threatened: “The national institutions, especially the monarchy, face real peril.” This is a call for the yellow shirts, the right-wing, the military and the establishment to unite and defeat the evil red shirts and their gullible, paid supporters. It is a call for war, for class war.

The sad thing is that Sopon is not some crazed fool, but is reflective of a minority opinion that may have considerable traction in the Democrat Party-led government and that party’s strong yellow-shirted wing. The last time such calls went out, many died.

Update 1: And then there is People’s Alliance for Democracy-cum-Democrat Party Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. In the Washington Post he blames all the deaths on Thaksin: “Thailand’s foreign minister says former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is personally instigating the country’s deadliest political clashes in nearly two decades. Kasit Piromya on Monday compared Thaksin to 20th century dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and to the terror group al-Qaida. Kasit said on the sidelines of a global nuclear summit that Thaksin is ‘a bloody terrorist’.”

Kasit is calling on the “United States to pressure Thaksin’s supporters to turn away from violence and enter into negotiations with the government.” We wonder if he has convinced his own Democrat Party’s yellow wing to accept negotiations? Will they negotiate with those who Sopon says are like “thugs in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Somalia. …[B]loodthirsty political thugs, paid well to serve masters who are crooks seeking political power.” Probably not, and PPT thinks Kasit is simply posturing on the international stage.

For PPT, Kasit’s statements are an accurate reflection, along with Sopon’s rant, of yellow-shirted opinion post-Saturday. It remains a dangerous time.

Update 2: A longer AFP report on Kasit’s comments make his position clearer still. He has attacked Thaksin and the “international community.” He is said to have “lashed out at the international community … for failing to take action against fugitive ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom he blamed for the country’s political unrest.” Kasit lambasted Russia, Nicaragua, Montenegro, Germany and Dubai for “washing their hands but he [Thaksin] is a bloody terrorist.” He stated that this amounted to an “act of interference by third countries…”. Kasit “likened Thaksin to an Al-Qaeda terrorist and past ‘elected’ leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.” Kasit seems to have a jaundiced view of elections (and a poor knowledge of history) claiming:  “Hitler was elected, Mussolini was elected, even Stalin could say that he was elected also but what did they do to their very society?”

Kasit lamented that the “world demanded for more democracy in Thailand” however it “allows Thaksin to run loose as if nothing happens…”.

The report adds some comments made by deputy premier Trairong Suwannakiri, who stated that the military has a “duty” to “take care of the country and restore order…”.

Update 3: The audio from one of Kasit’s statements is here. PPT somehow ended up on the end of a series of emails that was mainly being sent around within the yellow wing of the Democrats, including Abhisit, Panitan Wattanayagorn and General Pathompong Kesornsuk, and to several army email addresses. Citing army chief Anupong Paojinda’s call for a political solution,  it attacked this idea and dismissed it in very short terms. PPT wonders what kind of solution they want? General Pathompong, who famously appeared on the People’s Alliance for Democracy stage, stated immediately before the crackdown what his thinking was: “I used to think that people like General Anupong Paochinda or General Prayuth were fine officers. Now I wonder why they’re not doing anything [about the crisis].” He added: “Soldiers may drink or become womanisers but that’s okay as long as they are first and foremost loyal to the throne and the nation. They should not leak government secrets.” His view was that soldiers “must protect the country from being exploited for private interests. They must roar sometimes and not allow politicians to ruin the country.”

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