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06BANGKOK1302 THE THAI ARMY COMES TO DINNER

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“54989”,”3/2/2006 11:34″,”06BANGKOK1302″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”06BANGKOK1214″,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001302

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/02/2016

TAGS: ASEC, PGOV, PREL, MARR, TH, TRT – Thai Rak Thai, Thai Prime Minister,

Thai Political Updates, SNAP Elections, Protest/Demonstration

SUBJECT: THE THAI ARMY COMES TO DINNER

 

REF: BANGKOK 1214

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason 1.4 (a and d)

 

1. (C) Summary. During a March 2 dinner hosted by the

Ambassador, Royal Thai Army (RTA) CINC, GEN Sonthi

Boonyaratglin and his senior staff appeared relaxed and gave

no indication that the Army plans to involve itself in the

ongoing political crisis. Sonthi told the Ambassador that he

had recently urged PM Thaksin Shinawatra to show restraint,

make concessions to his critics, and avoid antagonizing

opponents in order to defuse tensions but seemed skeptical

that Thaksin would do so. Sonthi believes that the present

situation is much different than that of 1992, the last time

the Army intervened in Thai politics, and suggested that the

only way the Army would intervene would be to protect the

monarchy and restore order. Although Sonthi and his senior

staff officers were surprisingly candid in telling Embassy

officials about their dissatisfaction with Thaksin\’s

leadership — to the point of making jokes at his expense —

they took pains to demonstrate their intention to remain on

the sidelines. Sonthi hopes that anti-Thaksin rallies

continue to remain peaceful but acknowledged that his biggest

worry is that they will not. END SUMMARY.

 

SONTHI ASKS THE PM TO SHOW RESTRAINT

 

2. (C) On March 2, the Ambassador hosted RTA CINC Sonthi

and seven senior RTA officers to dinner at the residence. In

a pull-aside before dinner, Sonthi briefed the Ambassador on

his February 28 meeting with PM Thaksin. Sonthi said that,

contrary to press reports claiming he had urged to PM to step

down, he had simply urged Thaksin to back away from

confrontation, show a willingness to make concessions, and

generally take the high road when commenting on the political

situation. He was quick to note, however, that given the

PM\’s personality, it was unlikely Thaksin would heed such

advice.

 

THIS IS NOT 1992

 

3. (C) Sonthi believes that the current crisis differs

significantly from 1992 — when segments of the RTA fired on

protesters opposing General Suchinda Krayprayoon\’s assumption

of the Prime Ministry. In 1992, Sonthi explained, the RTA

had a vested interest in Suchinda remaining in power. Today,

the RTA has no similar stake for or against Thaksin. Sonthi

said that his biggest concern was that an unforeseen act

might cause one of the protests to become violent. He

underscored the need to be on the watch for agitators who

might try to provoke violence. Sonthi indicated that the

only circumstance under which the RTA would intervene would

be to protect the monarchy.

 

WHAT ABOUT SURAYUD?

 

4. (C) Sonthi is a protege of retired Army Commander and

current Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont. Sonthi

told the Ambassador that Surayud is uncomfortable with press

speculation that he might be appointed as an interim Prime

Minister should Thaksin step down. Nonetheless, Sonthi was

keenly interested in hearing about the Ambassador\’s February

28 meeting with Surayud and asked whether the Ambassador\’s

impression of Surayud corresponded with his own (reftel).

 

NOT CRITICAL OF CHAMLONG

 

5. (C) The Ambassador invited Sonthi to comment on the new

dynamic presented by the involvement of retired GEN Chamlong

Srimuang in the anti-Thaksin rallies. Sonthi refrained from

endorsing or criticizing Chamlong\’s role in the protests.

 

ARMY SUPPORT FOR THAKSIN NOTICEABLY LUKEWARM

 

6. (C) Sonthi and his staff appeared very relaxed throughout

the evening. The officers freely expressed their opinions

about the political situation and some even made jokes at

Thaksin\’s expense. GEN Chirapong Vanarat, Chief of Staff for

GEN Sonthi\’s inner office, went so far as to predict that

Thaksin would have to step down within the next three days.

That said, these same officers gave numerous examples of

steps they were taking to avoid giving any impression that

the military intends to intervene. Overall, we were struck

by how tepid the senior Army leadership\’s support for Thaksin

seemed to be.

 

MOLES IN OUR MIDST?

 

7. (C) Interestingly, the only wall flower during dinner

was Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence LTG Chatchai

Thavaraputta. His reticence was probably due to his having

been an Armed Forces Prep School classmate of Thaksin\’s. In

Thailand, police and military officer candidates attend prep

school together for two years prior to moving on to their

respective service academy. Members of the same class meet

annually and form close bonds. An officer is frequently more

loyal to his prep school classmates than he is to any other

group. Thaksin has been criticized by many within the RTA

for promoting his classmates, graduates of Prep School Class

10, ahead of more senior officers. During dinner, GEN

Chirapong laughingly said within earshot of LTG Chatchai that

the only reason Chatchai was present was to watch the others.

 

8. (C) Officers at post had been concerned that the last

minute addition to the Thai delegation of MAJ Saravudh

Shinawatra, nephew of the Prime Minister, might inhibit

conversation. However, Saravudh and the other aides waited

outside the dining room throughout dinner. Several of the

aides spoke openly with PolOff while the senior officers

dined in the residence. Whenever Saravudh would approach,

however, the other aides would stop talking about the crisis

and turn the conversation to something more innocuous.

Saravudh otherwise spent most of dinner on a cell phone

talking with two of his girlfriends.

 

COMMENT

 

9. (C) Sonthi gave every appearance of being a measured

professional who is committed to keeping the Army on the

sidelines of the unfolding political situation. We also

believe that he and his senior staff have a good grip on the

Army rank-and-file.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

July 10, 2011 at 4:24 am

One Response

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  1. […] continuing PPT’s Wikileaks series, we look at a 2 March 2006 cable U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce wrote after have Thailand’s Army boss and his entourage to […]


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