Thailand’s military, government in sync

Prime minister needs to keep army on his side

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Today, the military’s image is still a sensitive topic.

Official TV broadcasts and other displays feature flashbacks of armed soldiers trying to restore peace to Bangkok’s Red Shirt-infested streets while valiantly ushering innocent civilians out of harm’s way.

However, problems arose immediately when a new Positive Network group of people from advertising, public relations, media agencies and TV associations produced a video titled “Apologize Thailand” in mid-July.

The video includes graphic footage of clashes between the army and the Reds, along with other troubling aspects of Thai society, and was banned from being broadcast.

Its narrator asks in part: “Did we do anything wrong? Did we handle anything too harshly? Did we listen to only one side of the story? Did we perform our duties? Did we really think of people? Were we corrupt?”

The narrator advises: “If there was anyone to blame, it would be all of us. Apologize Thailand.”

After Thailand was cited internationally for censoring thousands of websites, plus other media, Mr. Abhisit said “Apologize Thailand” could be broadcast on TV, but television censors demanded it be “corrected” before it could air.

Thailand’s “military is first and foremost an armed bureaucracy, which does not fight wars,” analyst Duncan McCargo wrote in a 2002 article, “Security, Development and Political Participation in Thailand: Alternative Currencies of Legitimacy.”

“Instead, military officers have preferred to devote their energies to the more interesting and satisfying professions of business and politics. Their core businesses have been smuggling, logging, and profiting from the country’s natural resources,” wrote Mr. McCargo, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at Leeds University in England.

“In politics, they have consistently claimed for themselves high political office - many of Thailand’s prime ministers have had a military background - and a share in the running of the country.”

The military has appeared pleased that Mr. Abhisit increased the defense budget and generously allowed several controversial weapons-procurement contracts.

One of the prime minister’s most controversial moves regarding the army has been to ignore complaints that the military wasted $24 million on bogus bomb-detection equipment.

Earlier this year, the devices - GT200s - were exposed as frauds and denounced by the Thai government. Nevertheless, the military continued using the hand-held devices in southern areas and subsequently detained several innocent Muslims as possible insurgents but missed actual bombs that killed several troops.

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