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06BANGKOK4610 MORE ON MILITARY RESHUFFLE — THAI ARMY PUTS APOLITICAL OFFICERS IN CHARGE OF KEY UNITS

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“72904″,”7/28/2006 9:55″,”06BANGKOK4610″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

“06BANGKOK4211|06BANGKOK4277|06BANGKOK4373|06CHIANGMAI120″,

“VZCZCXRO3743

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH

DE RUEHBK #4610/01 2090955

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 280955Z JUL 06

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0558

INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

RUEKJCS/JCS WASHDC

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 004610

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/28/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, MASS, TH

SUBJECT: MORE ON MILITARY RESHUFFLE — THAI ARMY PUTS

APOLITICAL OFFICERS IN CHARGE OF KEY UNITS

 

REF: A. CHIANG MAI 120

B. BANGKOK 4373

C. BANGKOK 4277

D. BANGKOK 4211

 

Classified By: Charge Alex A. Arvizu. Reason 1.4 (a and d)

 

1. (C) Summary. Thai Army officers, civilian defense

analysts and other observers almost uniformly view the July

17 Army reshuffle as a deft move by Royal Thai Army (RTA)

CINC GEN Sonthi Boonyaratglin to ensure that key

battalion-level commanders and their subordinates in the

capital environs are loyal to the King and to RTA HQ, i.e. to

GEN Sonthi. Clearly the reshuffle was designed by GEN Sonthi

to preempt possible power plays by some Army elements close

to beleaguered caretaker PM Thaksin. By virtue of his

identification as a protector of the Palace, GEN Sonthi is

widely viewed as one of the \”good guys\” in the political

spectrum, and the July 17 Army appointments are generally

seen as contributing to a positive resolution of the ongoing

political drama rather than aggravating it. Even so, it is

remarkable that in 2006 the military — and the institution

of the monarchy, for that matter — remain for better or for

worse critical determinants in Thai politics. End Summary.

 

BACKGROUND

 

2. (C) Due to Thailand\’s history of military intervention

in the political process, analysts have been watching the RTA

closely for any signs of it stepping in to resolve the

present political stalemate. During the last such

interventions in 1991 and 1992, RTA units based near Bangkok,

particularly the 1st Infantry Division and the 4th Cavalry

Division, led a coup and violently put down protests.

Critics of PM Thaksin Shinawatra have long expressed concern

that the commanding generals of key Divisions near Bangkok

are Thaksin loyalists. For instance, MG Prin Suwanathat, the

commanding general of the First Infantry Division, is a

well-known Thaksin loyalist and pre-cadet prep school

classmate of the Prime Minister. Analysts point out that

patronage is important in the RTA. Flag officers loyal to

Thaksin, like Prin, have had several years to groom battalion

commanders who are presumably loyal directly to their

commanding general and indirectly to the Prime Minister.

 

3. (C) In Thailand, military and police officers are

extremely loyal to their pre-cadet preparatory school

classmates. These high-school groupings usually engender

closer ties than an officer holds towards his military or

police academy class. Regular prep class reunions are prime

networking events (For instance, on July 27 — Thaksin\’s

birthday — his class held a party in the Prime Minister\’s

honor). Throughout their careers, classmates help each other

in countless ways. In fact, previous coups have generally

involved officers from the same class. Thaksin, while

preparing for a career as a National Police officer, was a

member of Prep Class Ten. Many — although not all — of

Thaksin\’s RTA classmates are loyal to the Prime Minister and

are grateful for his patronage which has allowed them to be

promoted ahead of graduates from earlier classes. In a

country where a military officer can generally expect to be

promoted according to seniority, this patronage has caused a

great deal of resentment among members of more senior prep

classes who believe that Thaksin has \”broken the rules\” by

favoring his cronies. During the ongoing political turmoil,

this resentment between Class Ten Thaksin supporters and

others has led to speculation that pro-Thaksin officers might

step in to salvage their advantaged position.

 

4. (C) Most RTA officers who will express an opinion

dislike the Prime Minister. Notably, Thai officers pledge

allegiance to the Monarchy, not the Constitution, when they

are commissioned. Further exacerbating tensions between the

majority in the RTA and the pro PM minority is the perception

that Thaksin and his loyalists are insulting esteemed former

military officers like Privy Councillor and former RTA CINC

GEN Surayud Chulanont and Privy Councillor and former Prime

Minister GEN Prem Tinsulanond. It is widely speculated that

Surayud and Prem were instrumental in shaping the King\’s

unfavorable view of Thaksin.

 

DEFANGING THE DRAGON

 

BANGKOK 00004610 002 OF 002

 

5. (C) Thailand\’s defense establishment has been abuzz

analyzing what many describe as a master stroke by the

Commander in Chief of the Army, GEN Sonthi Boonyaratglin, to

reduce the likelihood that Thaksin supporters in the RTA

might make a move orchestrated by the Prime Minister. On

July 17, by using his administrative power to shuffle

mid-level officers, Sonthi transferred 129 RTA Lieutenant

Colonels and Colonels to new assignments. Included among

those officers were five battalion commanders from the First

Army Region which includes the area around Bangkok. Reftel A

discusses how this reshuffle was also used in the Third Army

Region, in Northwest Thailand, to reduce the influence of

Thaksin loyalists there. Sonthi\’s move was likely approved

by Prem who, on July 14 in a speech to military cadets,

likened Thaksin\’s government to a jockey who simply rides the

horse of state which is owned by the country and the King

(ref C).

 

6. (C) A senior RTA contact described the reshuffle as one

which \”defangs the dragon.\” According to the officer, even

though several Thaksin loyalists are Division commanders in

or around Bangkok, by shuffling the officers who actually

command combat units and ensuring that key battalion

commanders are known to Sonthi and the mainstream of the RTA,

Sonthi has made it virtually impossible for a commanding

general to be sure his subordinate would obey any order to

move in support of the Prime Minister.

 

STILL NO LOVE LOST BETWEEN THE OLD GUARD AND THE PM

 

7. (C) The tension between Thaksin and senior and retired

RTA officers is significant. A senior RTA officer in the

Royal Thai Supreme Command (RTSC) recently told us

confidentially that he and others are convinced that Thaksin

 

SIPDIS

and his supporters monitor the electronic communications of

Prem, Surayud and others. Our source also suggested that

anti-Thaksin members of the RTA are monitoring the Prime

Minister as well.

 

COMMENT: WHAT WOULD CAUSE THE MILITARY TO INTERVENE?

 

8. (C) \”What would cause the Army to step in?\” When asking

this question, Embassy officers have emphasized the

importance of the Army staying out of politics and allowing

the democratic process to play out. We have not hesitated to

point out how Army intervention could damage Thailand\’s

relationship with the United States. Uniformly, senior

officers from Sonthi on down have told us that the RTA has

come a long way since 1991 and would be extremely unlikely to

stage a coup. However, one RTSC general officer — a very

reliable U.S. contact whose professional sense of duty has

impressed us over the years — told us in a moment of candor

that if Thaksin made a move that was interpreted as disloyal

to the King, then the Army might have little choice but to

intervene by removing Thaksin from the political scene, and

quickly call for a new government to be appointed or elected.

Our contact stressed that he viewed such a scenario as

remote, especially in light of recent developments, i.e. the

royal decree announcing a general election on October 15, and

the guilty verdict returned by the Criminal Court against the

three members of the Election Commission, which many

interpret as a necessary step toward increasing the chances

of a fair election.

 

9. (C) Much of the recent intra-Army wrangling has been

aggravated by the uncertain political climate, including by

Thaksin\’s efforts to politicize the military during his time

in office. The good news is that the prospects for a decent

political outcome have improved considerably in light of

recent developments, including GEN Sonthi\’s preemptive

reshuffle of July 17. All the same, for all the real

progress made in strengthening Thailand\’s democratic

institutions since 1991-92, the Army is still a major factor

in the political scene.

ARVIZU

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Written by thaicables

July 12, 2011 at 5:12 am

2 Responses

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  1. [...] PPT’s continuing series of posts on the Wikileaks cables, we found the cable attributed to Charge Alex A. Arvizu on 28 July 2006 revealing. For context, this cable is produced less than two months before the [...]

  2. [...] PPT’s continuing series of posts on the Wikileaks cables, we found the cable attributed to Charge Alex A. Arvizu on 28 July 2006 revealing. For context, this cable is produced less than two months before the [...]


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