Thai army chief to stay out of politics

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Apirat Kongsompong. wikimedia/NBT

BANGKOK (Bangkok Post) – Army chief Apirat Kongsompong says he will wash his hands of politics after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is dissolved once the new cabinet is sworn in.

The cabinet list has been submitted to His Majesty the King, Prime Minister Prayut chan-o-cha said on Friday, and cabinet ministers will be sworn in after it is approved.

“From then on, I won’t make political comments nor will I get involved with politics in any way. I’ll perform my duty strictly as a professional soldier,” Gen Apirat, who is now the NCPO’s secretary-general, told reporters.

Asked about his role as a senator, Gen Apirat said he would perform the duty only in parliament. The army chief is constitutionally a senator by position over the next five years, and he said he will no longer serve in that capacity when he retires in September next year.

The general, who has defended the prime minister and made controversial political comments over the past five years, has apparently toned down his stance over the past few months.

He said the armed forces are a tool of “every government” when asked whether he would continue to support Gen Prayut.

He also declined to comment on reports Gen Prayut would also be the defence minister in the new cabinet line-up after Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon was tipped to keep only the deputy prime ministerial post in the new cabinet due to ongoing health issues.

On what plans he has for the army, Gen Apirat said next year would be a year for training and education. “We’ve revised the curricula for military students, recruits and cadets. There will be an English programme initially for cadets so they have language proficiency,” he said.

Under the programme, English will be used as the teaching medium for military subjects in the same way it is at some schools and universities.

He added the US army had offered support to train military teachers so they could teach in English when they return. “The Royal Thai Army has always followed the US-style military doctrine. The Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy has used the West Point curricula, as well as US training and organisations.”

The US holds training programmes for Thai military personnel under several projects. Eight second and first lieutenants are sent to study at Fort Benning in Alabama and Georgia each year.

“They are generally stationed in the Deep South when they return so they have field experience before they are put in other positions,” the general said. Around 200 Thai infantrymen also joined the US’ Lightning Forge 2019 training exercise in Hawaii this year. “Evaluation is taking place in Louisiana,” he added.

Separately, Palang Pracharath Party leader Uttama Savanayana has insisted on his innocence in the 2006 Krungthai Bank lending scandal, after the opposition Pheu Thai Party questioned his suitability to be finance minister.

Some key Pheu Thai members recently brought up the case after rumours emerged that Mr Uttama would take the key post in the new cabinet.

Mr Uttama was one of the five board members of Krungthai Bank who unanimously approved a 9.9-billion-baht loan to Krisdamahanakorn, a property developer, to refinance its debts in 2006.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the loan approval was illegitimate because the funds were later misappropriated after Bangkok Bank, its creditor, gave the company a debt haircut.

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