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Army chief affirms reform vow


      Army chief affirms reform

      IN A bold move to redefine the military,
      Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Surayuth
      Julanont on Wednesday vowed to follow
      orders from civilian leaders, to disengage
      from politics and business enterprises and
      to take a back-seat role on foreign policy

      Surayuth insisted his main mission was to
      lay the groundwork to upgrade military
      professionalism, to modernise the armed
      forces and to cooperate on, but refrain from
      interfering with, non-military policy

      Appointed to lead the Army last month, the
      new Army chief, who keeps a low profile,
      spoke to The Nation's group editor
      Suthichai Yoon to explain how he foresees
      his leadership to affect changes in the

      ''The new Army will abide by orders of the
      civilian government and by instructions of
      the defence minister who is vested with the
      power to be the highest authority of all
      militarymen,'' he said. 

      He said though the military should strictly
      follow orders, he, as the commander, will
      resign his commission in protest if the
      orders are given wrongfully or if they have
      an adverse impact on the Army. 

      The public should be the judge of his
      decision should a conflict ever arise with
      the government as he would fully disclose
      his reasons. 

      The general conceded, however, that
      based on his military experience the
      instructions to the armed forces issued by
      policymakers were often in grey areas,
      subject to interpretation and professional

      In such cases of unclear policies or
      directives, he said he would exercise his
      military discretion on how to respond,
      based on the best interests of the armed

      Even though he has five years until his
      mandatory retirement, Surayuth predicted
      that he might not need to stay on at the
      Army's helm for the entire tenure of his
      service in order to accomplish his mission. 

      In a strong signal about his serious intention
      to set the Army firmly on a professional
      course, he resigned from the Senate and
      several board seats in state enterprises. 

      Even though he argued that his decision to
      quit political and business appointments
      was based on a personal judgement to
      devote full attention to lead the Army,
      Surayuth apparently broke a tradition for the
      Army commander to hold several positions
      concurrently to enhance his personal

      In a surprise move to further distance the
      Army from business, he revealed that he
      was studying how to revise an old rule for
      the mandatory appointment of the Army
      chief to head the Thai Military Bank board. 

      The bank, though founded by the military,
      which still holds the majority stake, should
      be led and managed by professionals in
      view of the fast-paced changes in the
      industry, he noted. 

      Commenting on the military privileges to
      supervise a number of broadcasting
      frequencies, the Army chief confirmed his
      readiness to abide by the Constitution's
      Article 40 which stipulates that such
      frequencies belong to the state and must
      be supervised by a new public

      He pointed out that the Army was
      duty-bound to keep control of some
      frequencies for security and military
      reasons, though the future number of
      frequencies and the extent of control would
      be determined jointly between the military
      and the new public organisation as
      mandated when the organic law comes into

      Under the present arrangement, the Army
      keeps control of a total of 128 radio
      frequencies nationwide. All Army radio
      stations run their programmes as well as
      awarding concessions for partial or entire
      operations to private operators. 

      The commander said the stations remitted
      their earnings to the Army coffers to be
      distributed for the welfare of junior officers.
      He cited the land development
      programmes for military personnel in Lop
      Buri, Nakhon Sawan and Nakhon
      Ratchasima financed by earnings of Army
      radio stations as an example. 

      Under the Revolutionary Decree No 101,
      the military revenues from awarding radio
      and television concessions are exempted
      from being sent to the government coffers. 

      He said the military still has the need for
      non-budget revenues to run the welfare of
      the rank and file but it would not oppose any
      government initiative to revoke this

      The general added that the controversial
      extension of the Channel 7 concession
      contract was a done deal which could be
      nullified only if it was proved to have
      violated constitutional provisions. 

      He hinted that changes to the contract could
      be implemented after the organic law on
      the supervision of broadcasting
      frequencies was promulgated, leading to
      the ruling by the Constitutional Court. 

      Touching on allegations of the Army's past
      political interferences, he said militarymen,
      though having the right to follow politics and
      vote, were prohibited by military rules to act
      as canvassers. 

      He insisted that the military would welcome
      political campaigning and conduct of public
      hearings on its grounds but would not
      tolerate any more breaches of discipline to
      influence the elections. 

      He also clarified that the Army will maintain
      close ties with its international counterparts,
      especially in neighbouring countries, even
      though it is to strictly act within the policy
      parameters set by the Foreign Affairs

      The Nation