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EDITORIAL: Army reform cannot be a

Subject: EDITORIAL: Army reform cannot be a one-man show 

Editorial & Opinion 

      EDITORIAL: Army reform
      cannot be a one-man

      ARMY Commander-in-Chief Gen Surayuth
      Julanont reveals how serious and how
      focussed he is to stick with the path of
      reform for one of Thailand's most important
      institutions. He should be given a chance by
      the public, the government and most
      important of all by army officers and

      It is with the last group of people Surayuth's
      biggest challenge lies. It is not an
      exaggeration to say that he has the full
      backing of this government and the prime
      minister who is also minister of defence.
      The new army chief clearly believes in
      democracy and the power of the people,
      and most important of all, in military

      The word ''professionalism'' is key to this
      generation of army generals which many
      believe to be truly the first group of soldiers
      who do not believe in military rule of the
      country or dictatorship. Professional
      soldiers engage in military related activities
      with discipline and a strong sense of
      nationhood, and not in activities which are
      against the laws or abuse of power, not in
      commercialism, banking or patronage

      Surayuth will have four to five years, before
      he retires, to do what previous army
      commanders had vowed to do but were
      unable to implement. His predecessors had
      talked about army modernisation and
      downsizing. But these pledges had
      become mere lip service. Many of them
      became politically entangled or were even
      initiators of factionalism among army

      The new army chief is trying at the moment
      to isolate himself from practices that have
      made the army a less dignified institution
      than it deserves to be. He is thinking of
      resigning from the chairmanship of Thai
      Military Bank because the job should be
      given to a financial ''professional''. 

      He is willing to abide by the government's
      ruling if the controversial extension of the
      Channel 7 (which is owned by the army)
      concession to a private firm is terminated,
      as well as to give up owning radio
      frequencies which are unrelated to national
      security operations. He has also pledged to
      work with the government in foreign affairs
      and not to do things in isolation as had
      happened in many instances in the past. 

      These are good pledges and a good start.
      But the road ahead will not be easy
      because of the army's past with its vested
      interests and racketeering, cronyism and
      lack of professionalism. 

      In the end, it is the army officers and
      soldiers who must understand what the new
      army chief wants them to be. The reform,
      the modernisation, the downsizing and the
      maintenance of proper military
      professionalism, and it must be stressed
      with proper salaries and dignified perks --
      so that they can be relied upon to defend
      the country and conduct proper
      engagement in border clashes -- will
      depend on the troops and their
      commanders' cooperation with the new
      army chief. 

      Much resistance is expected. Some
      commanders will lose out in the reform
      process because there will have to be
      fewer generals and fewer chiefs. The
      extension of better communications through
      new technologies will mean some soldiers
      will lose their responsibilities if they cannot
      keep up with hi-technology. Many units will
      have to be closed down because they are
      no longer suited to the post-Cold War era.
      Mobility and knowledge are the new skills
      that the new Thai army must acquire. 

      No one expects the army to become fully
      transparent or totally accountable like other
      state agencies. Secrecy is one of the tools
      of the military. But there must be minimum
      transparency in the use of the budget and
      conduct related to civilians, and there must
      be sufficient accountability to win public

      Surayuth has a mountain to climb. His
      troops should have the understanding and
      be supportive of him. This is not a one-man
      crusade, and it would be a mistake to
      believe, as in the past, that everything in the
      Royal Thai Army rests with just one man. 

      The Nation