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Sonthi fears for his life – Thai theatrics or unforeseen troubles?

Updated On: Mar 06, 2007

The security situation in Thailand must be so dire that even the kingdom’s top gun is afraid of attacks on his life.

Shortly after the declaration over the weekend that army officers would be installed as “deputy governors in charge of security in all provinces” due to recent violence, the Bangkok Post has reported today (5 March) that the Council for National Security (CNS) chairman Sonthi Boonyaratkalin has now “moved to a new residence deep in the compound of the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen due to fears for his safety”.

There is an increasing wave of opposition as Thais are increasingly wary of the motives of the coup leaders.  While Sonthi has defended the plan for military deputy provincial governors and said that this would only be implemented after cabinet approval, the Bangkok Post also noted an army source as saying that “some security deputy governors had already been sent to Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces on the orders of the Internal Security Operations Command, which Sonthi chairs in his capacity as army chief, despite no cabinet endorsement of the plan”.

Adding to Sonthi’s headaches is the uncontrollable conflict in the South and the rift with the appointed government. According to the Nation, “warriors of Patani Islamic State” have distributed flyers in Yala and Songkhla claiming “responsibility over the coordinated bomb attacks of February 18”. Moreover, they exhorted “ethnic Malays in the deep South to continue the jihad against the ‘Siam oppressors’ [as this was as] necessary as the daily prayers and holy fast”. They vowed that “[the] ‘Siam people’ on the Patani Islamic state would have no peace until they leave the land”.

As to the troubles within the Surayud administration in the wake of two resignations, it is perhaps a wise move that Defense Minister Gen. Boonrawd Somtas has reasserted that the CNS “will not intervene in the ongoing cabinet reshuffle process and… that the prime minister will not resign from his post”, the Thai News Agency said. Boonrawd also reaffirmed CNS’ faith in Surayud, saying that Surayad “had considered carefully the challenges and likely consequences of the position before accepting the premiership, so he will continue to remain at his post”.  National Legislative Assembly member and primary figures behind protests to oust former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Chamlong Srimuang, has also urged PM Surayud to engage the CNS as the infighting was very damaging to the public faith.

Perhaps all these are the least of Sonthi’s troubles. Ever-buoyant Thaksin has come out to give an uncharacteristically cheery and optimistic public address at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on Friday and calling on the interim prime minister Surayud Chulanont to stay the course despite the rising tide of criticism.

Speaking on “Democracy at Crossroads”, Thaksin said, “I am certain that the resilience of the Thai people will serve to restore and continue economic prosperity once democracy is returned to Thailand… … the good-heartedness [of] the Thai people will enable Thailand to undertake soon a period of national reconciliation under the benevolent leadership and wisdom of our most beloved King… I believe in democracy because it can offer the dignity, the freedoms and the rights befitting the human race… it is a system of government that can deliver peace and prosperity with the people and the electorate at its centre…and it can provide us with the most effective means to bring about social justice.” True to form, Thaksin declared, “I [do not] have any intention to return to politics ever again”, but added that he would be happy if he can help to “reconcile” the country.

Sonthi was quick to pour doubts over Thaksin’s repeated denial of any interest in returning to politics.  In an exclusive interview with Time magazine, he said Mr Thaksin would still be able to control politics from behind the scenes. 'The most important thing in politics is money. If you have cash, you can have somebody do things for you,' he said. 'I believe that even if he (Mr Thaksin) says he is not entering politics, he can still control political parties.'

And this pre-occupation with Thaksin would seem to continue to plague the coup leaders and the interim government until something concrete is done to punish Thaksin for his crimes.  For one, Surayud “has ordered prosecutions for alleged human rights violations and extra-judicial killings during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration”. This order has been signed already on 23 February. This may also be the first prosecutions for Thailand at the international level as “lawyers have suggested perpetrators could be tried in an international forum if [Thailand] ratifies its 2000 signing of the International Criminal Court treaty which the Thaksin administration subsequently put… on the backburner”. (5 March 2007)

Sources:

Sonthi defends move to extend army's role (Bangkok Post, 5 March 2007)

Sonthi moves home to army compound (Bangkok Post, 5 March 2007)

Thaksin used democracy as means to an end (Bangkok Post, 5 March 2007)

Surayud orders renewed inquiry (Nation, 5 March 2007)

Govt ready to prosecute Thaksin people over deaths of South Muslims, accused 'dealers'  (Bangkok Post, 5 March 2007)

PM urged to get closer to CNS (Bangkok Post, 5 March 2007)

CNS won't interfere with cabinet reshuffle: defense minister (Thai News Agency, 4 March 2007)

Islamic insurgents distribute leaflets claiming responsibility for Feb 18 bombings (Nation, 3 March 2007)

Montri denies CNS wants to tighten grip (Bangkok Post, 3 March 2007)

Thaksin again vows to stay out of politics (Bangkok Post, 3 March 2007)

Thai southern insurgents claim responsibility for coordinated bombings (Xinhua, 2 March 2007)

Coalition Government Likely After Thai Election (Bernama, 1 March 2007)