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06BANGKOK5711 MILITARY AND PRIME MINISTER FACE OFF OVER MILITARY APPOINTMENTS, ALLEGED BOMB PLOT

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“78547″,”9/15/2006 10:26″,”06BANGKOK5711″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

“06BANGKOK4038|06BANGKOK5255|06BANGKOK5335|

06BANGKOK5423|06BANGKOK5463”,

“VZCZCXRO4222

OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #5711/01 2581026

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 151026Z SEP 06

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1679

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC”,

“C O N F I D E N T I A L

SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 005711

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/14/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PHUM, MOPS, ASEC, TH

SUBJECT: MILITARY AND PRIME MINISTER FACE OFF OVER MILITARY

APPOINTMENTS, ALLEGED BOMB PLOT

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 5463

B. BANGKOK 5423

C. BANGKOK 5335

D. BANGKOK 5255

E. BANGKOK 4038

 

Classified By: CDA Alexander A. Arvizu, reason 1.4 (b) (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: The police have arrested more military

personnel from the controversial military Internal Security

Operation Command (ISOC) in connection with the alleged car

bomb assassination attempt against Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra. Thai opinion is still very divided about whether

this was a real attempt to kill the PM, or a fabrication by

Thaksin or his supporters. Repeated and contradictory leaks

from police sources have undermined the credibility of the

investigation. One suspect in custody has apparently

confessed to a conspiracy to assassinate the PM, and said

that the group of ISOC officers was prepared to stage a coup

if the assassination attempt didn\’t work. However, the

confession has been greeted with skepticism, and there are

many competing theories about who is behind the car bomb.

Thaksin reportedly continues behind-the-scenes to press to

put \”his\” trusted men into important military positions,

presumably in response to the heightened threat to him posed

by the car bomb and the alleged military role in the

assassination attempt. High-ranking military officers are

fighting back with open criticism. The drawn-out conflict is

making some people nervous. A range of embassy military and

political contacts have taken on board our comments about the

consequences of unconstitutional action by the military; to a

person, they have reassured us that the military\’s patience

has not reached a breaking point. END SUMMARY.

 

ISOC ROLE

———

 

2. (C) Thai police have four suspects in custody in

connection with the alleged assassination attempt against the

Prime Minister; a fifth is free on bail. All the suspects

identified so far are from the Internal Security Operation

Command (ISOC). Although ISOC is staffed by military

personnel, it is not under the Defense Ministry, but rather

part of the Prime Minister\’s office, and the PM is its

director. ISOC\’s current role ostensibly is to focus on

fighting against narcotics and strengthening border security

(including in the South), but its concrete mission is

somewhat unclear. We understand that an effort to

\”regularize\” the status of ISOC was scrapped several years

ago, over concerns that ISOC might take on powers too broad,

reminiscent of a now-defunct agency with the same name that

fought against the Thai communists during the cold war.

ISOC\’s day-to-day operations were run by the Deputy Director,

General (ret.) Panlop Pinmanee. Panlop has a colorful

history: he fought in the Indochina conflict and boasts of

having been involved in RTG units that killed communists

during the 1970\’s. He was involved in a coup attempt against

General Prem in the 1980\’s. In April 2004, he was sacked from

his position coordinating the Southern strategy after

attacking the Krue Se mosque against the orders of his boss

— one of the bloodiest incidents in the government\’s

anti-insurgency efforts in the South. In sum, Panlop — who

remains popular, is a larger-than-life figure among some of

his military colleagues — is a throwback to the old days

with his swagger, blunt pronouncements, and hard-line views.

 

TRUTH?

——

 

3. (C) Three of the suspects — a major general, a colonel

and a lieutenant colonel — have denied any knowledge of the

bombing attempt. The driver of the \”bomb car\” has made

confused statements which fall far short of a confession, but

do not clarify just what he was doing driving around a car

laden with explosives (ref C). One of the suspects, however,

has made a confession and a string of accusations that have

gotten extensive press coverage. Sgt-Major Chakrit — who

goes by the nickname \”Sgt. Giant\” — has reportedly said that

a group of ISOC officers (including an unnamed four-star

general, and about eight other officers) decided to \”end the

Thaksin regime.\” If the bomb didn\’t work, according to press

reports, the conspirators planned to attack Thaksin with an

RPG or M79 grenade launcher. If that didn\’t work, then

they\’d stage a coup, Chakrit reportedly told the police.

(Comment: ISOC would not appear to have the capability to

launch a coup. End comment.) Press reports of his

 

BANGKOK 00005711 002 OF 004

 

statements raised expectations that there would be further

arrests of high-ranking officers soon. General Panlop

derided Chakrit as a \”ding-dong\” and the press have painted

him as a somewhat disreputable individual. Like many in the

military, Chakrit reportedly also works providing \”security

for entertainment venues,\” allegedly for the notorious

General Trairong (see para 6). Senior police called a press

conference on September 11 to deny the widespread press

reports that they will shortly be making more arrests, and to

ask the press to stop publishing misleading information

(Comment: most of it apparently leaked by police sources.

End comment).

 

4. (C) From our contacts, we have heard a wide variety of

assessments, predictions and guesses, many of them much less

partisan than we might expect. A number of high officials,

not Thaksin fans, admit to uncertainty about whether the bomb

was a serious assassination attempt. Former Cabinet Secretary

Borwornsak (ref A) and Privy Councillor General Surayud (ref

B), both very knowledgeable insiders, were agnostic. Senior

TRT member Suranand — one of the \’doves\’ rumored to be on

his way out of the party — also took the middle ground,

expressing uncertainty about the origin of the bomb attempt

(ref D). A long-time politico and former Thaksin ally, now

on the outs with the PM, told us that the officers who were

arrested were in fact plotting to kill Thaksin with a car

bomb, but the plot still had a long way to go. Thaksin\’s

people found out about it, however, and threw together a fake

attempt and then arrested the \”plotters.\”

 

5. (C) While many Thaksin opponents continue to dismiss the

bomb out of hand as a fabrication, some have pointed out that

Thaksin did seem to be genuinely frightened by the event,

which argued for it being a real assassination attempt, or,

perhaps, a fabrication set up without his knowledge.

Spokesman for the opposition People\’s Alliance for Democracy,

Suriyasai Katasila, somewhat surprisingly asserted that he

thought it was a real bomb and a real attempt to kill the PM.

He suggested, however, that it was a criminal element that

was behind the attempt, noting that Thaksin had made many

enemies by championing the war on drugs and efforts to

disrupt the illegal lottery. Like almost everyone who thinks

it was a real assassination attempt, he expressed concern for

the PM\’s family. He thought that Thaksin\’s security guards

could probably protect the PM, but said, \”Thaksin loves his

wife and children very much\” and would be more worried about

the implied threat to them.

 

6. (C) One journalist contact has raised the possibility

that the evil mastermind behind the plot was the infamous

\”Sae Ice,\” General Trairong Intharathat, an advisor to the

Defense Minister and a member of \”Class 10\” (the officers who

studied with Thaksin in the pre-Cadet Academy – ref C). \”Sae

Ice\” has been identified as one of the key figures in the

payoff to small parties to run in the April elections —

actions that have put Thaksin\’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party in

danger of dissolution, and which might have personal

consequences for him. He is also a notorious figure, linked

to protection rackets, gambling, and other money-making

extracurricular activities. (Comment: a number of senior

military officers are believed to profit from shady

activities, but General Trairong seems particularly tied in

to underworld activities. End comment.) It\’s unclear whether

there is any actual evidence against him in the car bomb

plot, or whether he just seems like a likely candidate under

the circumstances. According to this scenario, General

Trairong is paying off \”Sgt. Giant\” to confess and make the

bomb attempt look more plausible, thus winning sympathy for

the PM and weakening the position of the military leaders

opposing Thaksin.

 

7. (C) A TRT contact predicted to us last week that the

investigation would lead to the arrest of a \’four-star

general\’ and that \”a businessman who had been disadvantaged\”

financed the attack. (Comment: in Thailand, crooked police

and military are sometimes hired as thugs and hitmen. End

comment.) Shortly thereafter, prominent and controversial

businessman Prachai Leophairatana publicly denied any

involvement in the bomb. Poloff met last week with Prachai,

now secretary-general of a new political party. Prachai said

that he had issued the denial, even though he had not been

named in the press, because some media reports seemed to be

aimed at implicating him. Prachai harbors a deep grudge

against Thaksin; he had expected the government to help him

retain control of his Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI),

which was in financial straits after the 1997 crash. For

 

BANGKOK 00005711 003 OF 004

 

good reason, he was dubbed Thailand\’s \”most recalcitrant

debtor\” and fought a long battle to retain control of the

company, which he finally lost earlier this year. He is

widely believed to be a top funder of the anti-Thaksin

People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and other opposition

activities. We discussed this particular allegation with a

long-time expat journalist here who knew Prachai and his case

well. After initially dismissing the idea of any businessman

being behind the bomb, the journalist said, \”Actually,

Prachai is the only one crazy enough to do something like

this. And if it was him, he\’ll keep trying.\”

 

CONSEQUENCES

————

 

8. (C) The first consequence felt from the alleged bombing

attempt was on the \’military reshuffle,\’ the annual exercise

in which military officers are rotated to their new

positions, including the top jobs (ref C). Thaksin has

pressed hard to put \”his\” supporters (mostly from his \”class

10\” classmates) into key jobs, according to a wide variety of

sources. The warfare between the military and the PM over

this issue is out in the open, with play-by-play reports in

the press on the conflict. The military reshuffle has been a

source of tension in the past when Thaksin wanted to help out

certain candidates for jobs (for example, when his cousin

became Army Chief in 2004), but most contacts say that the

conflict has never before been this open and heated.

 

9. (C) Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda, top of the Thaksin

\”enemies list,\” has also been drawn into the fray. After the

bomb was discovered, a small group of protesters appeared

outside his house, with signs asking Prem to \”save Thaksin\’s

life.\” The strange little protest seemed designed to

implicate Prem somehow in the bomb scheme, and in turn

aroused a lot of indignation among Prem\’s supporters.

 

10. (C) The military is also put into a tough position by the

continued leaks from the investigation alleging higher level

military involvement in an assassination attempt. Relations

between the police and military have not generally been very

good here. Thaksin\’s background as a police official has led

him to favor the police (for example, when he decided to

give them the lead in dealing with security in the South.)

Now the police are the vehicle for daily accusations against

vaguely identified military officers (\”Maj. General S,\”

\”General P,\” and \”Col. B\” are repeatedly cited as

conspirators by the press, in addition to the suspects

already arrested). This has prompted some speculation that

the military will eventually feel like they have to \”do

something\” about both the reshuffle and the bomb accusations.

Normal troop movements earlier this week set off a brief

flurry of coup rumors, for example, which still resonate in

the local press. Thaksin\’s protracted absence has also raised

concerns. He did not return from the ASEM meeting in

Helsinki, instead visiting his daughter in London. He will

go on to the NAM in Havana, and then the UNGA. The

government spokesman yesterday indicated that Thaksin might

not return after that, but could stay abroad for longer. A

TRT source told the press that the PM\’s absence was to \”help

deter a military coup.\” (Comment: although it\’s unclear how

his absence deters a coup, rather than facilitates one. End

comment.)

 

COMMENT

——-

 

11. (C) Talking to military contacts and academics, we

mostly hear the same analysis about the military\’s options.

Despite some jittery nerves in Bangkok about the bad blood

between the military (and the Palace) on one hand, and the

police (and Thaksin) on the other, virtually everyone with

whom we have spoken does not believe the situation has gotten

even close to the point where the military would act.

Embassy officials continue to make clear to military and

political contacts that any such move by the military would

have serious consequences, and would be very

counterproductive. We are encouraged by the views expressed

by important figures like Privy Councillor Surayud, perhaps

the most respected retired senior military officer, who

expressed faith in the political process, and who clearly

opposed any kind of coup attempt by the military (ref B).

Army Commander General Sonthi has also reassured us (ref D)

and publicly denied any possibility of a military coup.

 

12. (C) The bomb investigation remains troubling. As the

 

BANGKOK 00005711 004 OF 004

 

collection of theories above demonstrates, the borders

between politics, military, business, and crime are not so

clearly drawn here. The police handling of the case, which

has seen multiple, often contradictory rumors from \”police

sources\” in the press, has raised concerns that, whatever

really happened, the case is now being manipulated for

political purposes. As the various rumors recounted above

show, no one feels very certain about what is really behind

the bomb: a warning? a fabrication? or a serious — if

bungled and borderline comical — assassination attempt?

Given the way the investigation is proceeding, it seems quite

possible that we will never know for sure.

ARVIZU

Written by thaicables

July 13, 2011 at 5:47 am

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