Commanders Sacked for Role in Bangkok Crackdown
BANGKOK — DESPITE the Aug. 1 replacement of military leaders believed responsible for the deaths of pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok last May, analysts say Thailand is far from having a neutral or professional military force.
Military leaders, other than disgraced former Prime Minister Gen. Suchinda Krayprayoon, had defiantly held on to their posts, despite calls for their resignation.
The removal of the key officers had become a litmus test for the administration of Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, which began June 10 following royal intervention to end further turmoil. In total 16 officers were transferred. Former Supreme Commander Gen. Sunthorn Komsompong called the transfers "heavy-handed" but much of the Thai press lauded Mr. Anand's action.
Former Army chief Gen. Issarapong Noonpackdee was bumped upstairs to an administrative job with the Defense Ministry while his relative, Bangkok area commander Lt. Gen. Chainarong Noonpackdee was assigned to a training institute.
A more obvious demotion was the transfer of former Air Force chief and supreme commander, Air Chief Marshal Kaset Rojananil, to a job as inspector general.
Gen. Wimol Wongwanich will take over as Army chief, Air Chief Marshal Woranat Aphicharee as supreme commander, and Air Chief Marshal Gun Pimarnthip as Air Force chief. All are regarded as professionals who will promote other like-minded officers in the annual reshuffle in September.
"We will detach the military institutions from politics, that is, we will exercise our [political] rights [only] as ordinary citizens," General Wimol told reporters.
Further action is possible, now that an investigation by the new defense minister is thought to have found fault with the military's handling of the protests.
The reshuffle was in part motivated by the palace's desire that the military field a reputable receiving line during the Aug. 12 celebration of the birthday of Queen Sirikit, a Thai professor says.
The new appointments are expected to help restore credibility for the tarnished military, but pro-democracy activists are expected to test the military leadership's sincerity in establishing a new relationship with the populace.
Despite Wimol's statement that coups are "obsolete" many here fear that if the Sept. 13 elections result in a government rife with corruption the military might be tempted to intervene again.