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Sonthi: A campaign to keep in the public eye

Updated On: Sep 07, 2007

Just as ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra traipsed all over the world to ensure a continued high profile, coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin has been doing the same.

Just shy of his mandatory retirement at the end of this month and all the speculation about who is to be his successor, Sonthi has continued to remain coy about his post-military prospects.

According to the Bangkok Post, Sonthi “has become a household name” and “private companies had offered him a post as president with a fat monthly pay”. Many political parties have apparently been wooing him as well. However, as another Bangkok Post commentary wrote that “if Gen Sonthi is smart, and fully aware of the public mood, he should retire in grace and live a normal life… He should shun temptations to lead a political party”.

Whatever it is, Sonthi has continued to keep mum. At the end of August, Sonthi made a visit to Myanmar to meet “Myanmar's two most powerful generals, Senior General Than Shwe and Vice Senior General Maung Aye”. Apparently this “is part of a series of trips by Sonthi to visit neighbouring countries” as a tentative “first step toward a political career, in which he would repackage himself as a civilian leader and run in general elections expected in December”.

Sonthi is intending to visit the Southern provinces soon to cheer on the demoralized teachers in the ravaged region. Incidentally, the Thai police chief, Sereepisut Taemeeyaves, is now there making a tour of stations to meet with local commanders. As expected, killings have been carried out in defiance of his visit.

The international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently published a report in late August, entitled –No One is Safe: Insurgent Attacks on Civilians in Thailand's Southern Border Provinces. It advised the “separatist groups and Thai authorities to permit independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of human rights abuses, and ensure that those found responsible be held accountable”. Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said the security legislation –including the Executive Decree on Government Administration in Emergency Situations and martial law –and large number of security forces have contributed to the “extrajudicial killings, ‘disappearances’ and arbitrary arrests of those known or suspected to be involved with separatist groups”.

On another note, the Thailand-Myanmar cooperative on a controversial hydroelectric project in the “eastern Karen state as part of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand's (EGAT) agreement with theMyanmar government to build a US$1 billion (S$1.5 billion) dam on the Salween River” has seen the killing of one Thai national. This has prompted the evacuation of all the other Thais working at the site. The governmental press –the New Light of Myanmar –has blamed the rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU), for the attack.   

Despite the targeting of foreigners in Myanmar, Pornpimon Trichot of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies said that “the shelling might be linked to fighting between government and rebel forces and might not have been directed at the dam project workers”. In any case, the dam project “is a huge investment” and unlikely to be derailed by the attack.

Sources:

Three killed as Thai police chief visits Muslim south (Bangkok Post, 6 September 2007)

Fame has yet to desert CNS boss (Bangkok Post, 6 September 2007)

Thai worker killed in attack on Myanmar dam project (ST, 5 September 2007)

Commentary: Army without a commander (Bangkok Post, 2 September 2007)Human Rights Watch urges ceasefire in Thai deep south (Nation, 28 August 2007)

Thai junta leader arrives in Myanmar (AFP, 26 August 2007)