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Army in the middle
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  1. #1
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    Army in the middle

    Army in the middle
    By Wassana Nanuam

    Wassana Nanuam reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post.


    The street demonstrations are seen by some as an attempt to force the army out of its barracks. If police attack protesters, they hope the army will bring the police under its control.

    The failure of the 9/19 coup to solve any problems, political or economic, should have made people realise that military intervention is not an effective "answer". Still, with another political crisis gripping the country, rumours of an imminent coup seem to be occupying the people's minds.

    It's probably hope against hope from the anti-Thaksin side. With the kind of money the former PM has at his disposal, and the massive, solid base of rural voters which the ruling People Power party enjoys, nothing else has the potential to rock its dominance.

    With the recent failure in mind, however, it is hoped that whoever would be leading a new round of intervention - if there is one - would learn from the expensive lesson of the Council for National Security (CNS) and not repeat its many mistakes, including the choice of prime minister.

    The protest against the government led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, entering its third week, is viewed as an attempt to create conditions for the army to come out of its barracks and take action. If the police turn its weapons against the protesters, the army must bring the police under its control, some PAD leaders have urged.

    The man who stands in the middle of the grand tug-of-war between the government and PAD is Army Commander-in-Chief General Anupong Paojinda. His control over strategic military coup forces makes him a precious trump card, a lethal weapon which each warring side cannot allow to fall into the opponent's hands.

    Gen Anupong's status has a mystique about it. A core member of the CNS, Gen Anupong is also a classmate of Mr Thaksin. During the past four months, he has shown all the signs of being on good terms with PM Samak Sundaravej, evident in his accompanying the PM on almost all his overseas trips so far.

    The Samak-Anupong alliance offers mutual benefits to both men caught in this high-stakes political strife. As a footloose leader dubbed a "home alone PM", Mr Samak needs someone to support him against the politics within the ruling party. Who else could offer more solid support than the army chief?

    As for Gen Anupong, the executive powers of Mr Samak form the only shield he and other officers who took part in the putsch which overthrew Mr Thaksin can ever find, to protect themselves against the possibility of Mr Thaksin's revenge.

    The big test will arrive with the annual reshuffle in August and September when such important officers as the defence permanent secretary, supreme commander, navy admiral and air force commander are due to retire.

    For sure, the incumbent armed forces chiefs, who were all CNS members, can see the possibility of Mr Thaksin's intervention.

    The annual reshuffle would be the perfect opportunity to put all his military men in charge to stop any more coups permanently.

    Even Gen Anupong's tenure - he is due to retire in 2010 - is at stake as he could be moved to replace Gen Boonsrang Niempradit as supreme commander.

    Personally, I believe the annual reshuffle and the uncertainty over Gen Anupong's future will be the catalyst prompting the army chief to take sides.

    From the military's point of view at this moment, supporting Mr Samak as prime minister remains the best bet. Who knows who Mr Thaksin's followers could have propped up in his place? It could be a worse, more dangerous choice than the cooperative Mr Samak.

    Of course, another option would be to make use of the political crisis and seize power again so as to gain complete control over the reshuffle. The army knows fully well, however, that there would be so much resistance to this exercise to the point that things could become very bloody, indeed.

    When I mentioned to Gen Anupong about his apparently cosy relationship with the head of government, the army chief retorted immediately: "I am not a soldier of the government.

    "The army belongs to the Thai public," Gen Anupong said. "I can't channel it to serve as anybody's private army.

    "I am always on the side of the people," the army chief emphasised.

    At this moment, the political conflict seems to have advanced so far and the issues become so divergent, that a compromise is no longer possible.

    Many people wonder how this latest PAD-government stand-off will end?

    I cannot foresee how the whole thing will culminate.

    From my point of view, however, it seems that if the army takes the government's side, a crackdown might be in order and blood would be shed just like the Bloody May incident in 1992.

    If the army chooses to go against the government's wishes, then it would be forced to overthrow it.

    If the army has learned something from the last coup, however, it would be wise enough not to take sides with either camp.

    If it has to do something, it would make sure that it can put all of them - the PAD, Mr Samak and the allegedly nominee government - in their proper places.

    Gen Anupong is obviously caught between a rock and a hard place.

    For now, the army chief has no better option than to retain his neutral ground for as long as possible.

    Meanwhile, the whiff of another coup continues to hang in the air...

  2. #2
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    Re: Army in the middle

    PAD speaks, Army is deaf
    By Wassana Nanuam


    The armed forces are concerned that the relentless efforts by the People's Alliance for Democracy to drag the military into their game is a battle to win the favour of the military.

    Wassana Nanuam reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

    The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is known to have been an ally of the generals who staged the Sept 19, 2006 coup that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    The same old faces have launched another round of protests, urging the military to force the government out of office and root out the Thaksin regime after the last coup failed to achieve its aim.

    During the initial stages of the present demonstration, they stepped up calls for the military to step in to "sort out" the political crisis, by which they meant stage another coup.

    The armed forces, however, did not respond to their calls since they have learnt a lesson from the last coup and know that is not the solution.

    The military top brass no longer hang together as well as before.

    The Council for National Security (CNS), set up by the coup-makers to run the country, no longer exists.

    Some of its former members want to redeem themselves by trying to wipe out the Thaksin regime. Their problem is that they no longer have control of the armed forces.

    Some "defectors" among CNS members kissed and made up with Mr Thaksin and his successor, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

    One is army chief Anupong Paojinda, who has reportedly mended relations with Mr Thaksin.

    Both were in Class 10 at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School. That helps explain why there was no reaction from Gen Anupong to the PAD's calls for him to make a move.

    Chamlong Srimuang, a PAD leader and a graduate from Class 7 at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, had to make a plea for all soldiers, past and present, from the academy to support the PAD.

    Some serving and retired soldiers have rallied behind the PAD.

    They include Gen Panlop Pinmanee, former deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, and Maj-Gen Manoonkrit Roopkachorn. They are Maj-Gen Chamlong's staunch friends and were involved in coups in the past.

    The PAD also has the support of Adm Banawit Kengrian, former chief adviser to the Defence Ministry and Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr, deputy permanent secretary for defence and a former CNS member.

    At first, Gen Anupong drew praise from the PAD for warning the prime minister against imposing emergency rule and against using force to disperse the protesters.

    The PAD believed that Gen Anupong was on the public's side.

    But actually the real reason was that the army chief was concerned that Mr Samak might fall into a "trap" if he used force to break up the demonstration.

    Gen Anupong advised Mr Samak to allow the PAD to continue their protest rally until it loses steam and wilts away.

    Mr Samak can play a waiting game for as long as he wants and if the anti-government demonstration gets out of hand, he can dissolve the House and call a general election as a last resort. The government would act as a caretaker government and oversee the election.

    The PAD now knows that Gen Anupong is on the government's side.

    Disillusioned, the PAD now turned on the army chief. He came under criticism for keeping silent over the defamation case brought against the Assets Scrutiny Committee by a law firm representing Mr Thaksin.

    An army source said the armed forces are concerned about the PAD's relentless efforts to drag the military into their game. It is a battle to win the favour of the military, said the source.

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