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Nation: Editorial & Opinion : Suray

Subject: Nation: Editorial & Opinion : Surayuth guns for reforms 

Editorial & Opinion 

Surayuth guns for reforms 

Slow but sure? Prakobpong Panapool and Pana Janviroj look at the first five
months of the tenure of Thai Army Commander Gen Surayuth Chulanont who has
defied the past and looks ahead to reforms despite the many accusations hurled
his way. 

THERE are clearly some officers who are unhappy with the style and policies of
the new Thai Army Chief Gen Surayuth Julanont. Speculations abound about his
effective administration of the Royal Thai Army. 

The most visible signs to the public is how tamed the army as an institution
has become. Its officers exemplified by directives from Surayuth have
from making political comments. There has been a clearer division of
responsibilities with the Foreign Ministry on border disputes, and some
military mafia who prey on unscrupulous activities are being dealt with
internally, and through the due process of law. 

Quietly and surely, changes are steadily being made on the whole. 
But his critics are far from sympathetic. They say that the new army commander
has failed to win respect because he was promoted beyond the traditional
-- jumping above some of his previous seniors. He is facing difficulties in
administering and his deputy Gen Sampao Choosri, himself tipped earlier as the
army chief, ended up having to carry out the orders to get things moving, they
So, what's going on in the army. 

Sources close to Surayuth liken the situation to the start of a process of
reform to make the Royal Thai Army into a people's army as aspired. That means
being professional, credible, reliable, transparent whenever called for, and
winning when it counts. 
''The structural changes will take 10 years. Now we are working on changing
attitude,'' one of them said. 

The chief runs his army through four subordinates -- Gen Sampao, Gen Rawat
Boontap, Gen Nipon Palanit and Gen Charn Boonprasert. Charn is due to retire
this September and is expected to be replaced by Lt Gen Boonrod Somtap,
Surayuth's classmate at Jor Por Ror 12. 
Rawat is a close friend who seconded Surayuth when the latter was commander of
the Army Second Region. Both had served under former army commander Gen Prem
Tinsulanonda, who now chairs the Privy Council. 

The source close to the army commander countered accusation that his
command is
being met with resistance with a sarcastic quip. ''Gen Surayuth delegates.
Everything must be done according to established procedures, channels and in
fairness; and not subject to whimsical lobbying.'' 

He said Gen Surayuth also does not want to be seen and appear everywhere like
previous army chiefs -- sunk under schedules that he does not have time to

The tendency, for example, to step away from scandals of the day like the
military mafia is also a question of style -- not out of lack of courage to
act, but to signal to them the chief's attitude that is not to fall into their
hornet and play their game that they have backing from the top. 

These officers, involved in illicit mafia-like activities, are an unhappy lot.
Many of their leaders are now attached to the Supreme Command. 

But the fight against vested interests in the army such as the control of TV
Channels 5 and 7 and a host of radio stations have proved an uphill task. The
army chief has recently designated Lt Gen Sompong Maivichit, his mate from Jor
Por Ror Class 12, to head Channel 5, replacing Gen Pang Malakul na Ayudhya. 

Surayuth is seen as trying to ignore the past and to move forward in dealing
with vested interests on commercial activities linked to the army. He walks on
a thin line of public trust and graft shake-up here. 
Another unhappy lot are officers who are being encouraged to accept early
retirement because of the ongoing army structural change, which deals directly
with idle units; while many others find themselves with new tasks. The
pains do
not come without criticism from several army commanding generals. 

The top officers of the army now spend a lot of time brain-picking what
kind of
threats the country would face in the next 10 years so as to mould the
structure accordingly. 

The idea of having a very mobile army, which is small in number, has sounded
good but is difficult and expensive to put into effect. A small army will also
require a sufficient number of reserved soldiers, but in Thai culture,
personnel are not accustomed to come for regular training. 

Some form of compromises are likely to be made not least for cost purposes. 

Surayuth is also known to be supportive of the plan for better coordination
between the three armed forces and the Supreme Command. 

Gen Yutthana Yamphan, chairman of the advisory committee of the Defence
Minister and Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, has proposed a new command
to the Defence Ministry for the commanders of the army, navy, air force and
Supreme Command to be answerable directly to the permanent secretary for
Whereas, a Supreme Command committee led by Gen Chokchai Hongthong has
that the three armed forces be run under a joint chief of staff system under
the supreme commander as head. 
The heated debate about the reform of defence and armed forces command
structure might demand a decisive political decision or a tactful intervention
from Chuan if the military restructuring is to move on to the implementation

Despite talks for almost half a decade, the contentious and unsolved issue
boils down to who, among the defence permanent secretary, the supreme
and respective commanders of the three armed forces, should have the final say
on the military budgetary allocations and spending. 

For the immediate task of downsizing the army, Surayuth will face a key
challenge to demonstrate his leadership just a month from now. 
The mid-year reshuffle, scheduled for every April, is slated to become a
crucial test to gauge Surayuth's commitment to set the army on a firm
course of
reform by gradually tackling the problem of rank and personnel redundancy -- a
most unpopular trend as most militarymen tend to hold on to a tenet that the
rank of general was a rightful professional reward, not a position to be