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BKK Post, March 7, 1998 SALWEEN SCA

March 7, 1998

Chettha speaks out in defence of Third Army commander
Says he does not have to testify before panel

The army chief yesterday spoke in defence of the Third Army commander, 
saying he did not have to testify before a House committee looking into 
the Salween logging scandal.

The commander, Lt-Gen Thanom Vatcharaphut, has assigned his deputy, 
Maj-Gen Vattanachai Chaymuenwongse, to testify before the House 
Committee on Agricultural Affairs.

Gen Chettha Thanajaro, the army chief, yesterday said it was all right 
for Lt-Gen Thanom to do so since it would not make any difference 
whether it was the Third Army chief himself or another senior officer 
who gave the testimony.

Maj-Gen Vattanachai might even know better about the matter, added the 
army chief.

Gen Chettha insisted Karen refugees had to be moved out of the Salween 
National Park for security reasons, adding they would be repatriated 
when it was safe to do so.

An army source said yesterday the army was getting tough with wayward 
officers and they would be fired if found guilty.

Gen Chettha had made it a policy to dismiss any officers found to have 
abused power or been involved in extortion rackets, the source said.

The move followed news reports of a number of violent crimes in which 
military officers were allegedly involved. Many, including senior ones, 
have been accused of heading mafia-like gangs or being on their 

Gen Chettha was quoted as telling a meeting on Monday the army would no 
longer tolerate wayward behaviour among its officers which could tarnish 
its reputation.

About 10 officers had already been dismissed in connection with such 
reports, the source said.

Supervisors of accused officers were also obliged to report to the army 
chief directly, according to the source.

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, in his capacity as defence minister, had 
also asked the top brass to keep their men in check and to take action 
against those who misbehaved, the source said.

Meanwhile, the House committee yesterday urged investigators to speed up 
their probe into alleged log felling activities by a timber company 
linked to a five million baht bribe.

The panel also blamed local authorities for negligence of duty by 
failing to press charges against the owner of the firm. The authorities 
were also found to have allowed the firm to use public land for storing 
railway sleepers without seeking permission from the Land Department.

Committee Chairman Charoen Chankomol yesterday led a 35-member team to 
inspect railway sleepers piled up in Ban Tak, Tak province. The wood 
reportedly belonged to Saha Vanakij Sawmill Co operated by logging 
tycoon Vinai Panichayanuban.

Mr Vinai has been accused by a team of investigators led by Pol Lt-Gen 
Seri Temiyavej, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, of 
having paid a five million baht bribe to Prawat Thanadkha, the deputy 
Forestry Department chief.

The House committee was accompanied to the site by Tak Governor 
Phongpayom Wasapooti and Tak forestry chief Sunthorn Phakakarn. Ban Tak 
district chief Thavorn Choeiphan, head of the local investigation team, 
gave a briefing on the source of origin of some 13,000 teak logs found 
in Saha Vanakij Sawmil Co to the panel.

After the briefing, Mr Charoen asked why the local investigators did not 
press charges against the logging tycoon.

"I am puzzled why the investigators, despite having evidence, failed to 
file charges against Mr Vinai. What they did was press charges against 
Mr Vinai's workers. They should have gone for the mastermind," said the 
panel chairman.

Mr Charoen claimed the firm has made use of public land for several 
years without any permission from the Land Department. The firm stored 
both illegal and legal timber on state land, he alleged.

Tak governor Phongpayom said he has ordered the seizure of teak wood 
from the firm to facilitate the probe.

On the seizure of 5,576 logs worth 50 million baht found hidden in a 
forest in Ban Tak district on Thursday, Mr Phongpayom said Saha Vanakij 
Sawmill, which claimed to own the logs, had a permit to transport the 
wood from the forest.

The panel is expected to take a week to re-check the legality of the 
permit and other related documents.

If the documents are found to be fake, the owner of the firm and 
officials linked to the scam would face legal action, stressed Mr