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Thai Counter-Insurgency Officials Coup Plotters?

Thai Counter-Insurgency Officials Charged With Coup


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- After surviving an alleged car bomb assassination plot, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra now faces about 10 military counter-insurgency officials charged with attempting to murder him, including a sergeant who confessed to planning the coup.

Opponents of the pro-American prime minister -- including Bangkok's wealthy elite and pampered middle-class, Thai media, white-collar business executives, students and others -- suspect the car bomb and coup plot is an dangerous charade by Mr. Thaksin to win an election scheduled for Oct. 15, while simultaneously bludgeoning his perceived enemies within the military.

The billionaire prime minister, however, is believed to be overwhelmingly popular in the countryside where most of this Southeast Asian nation's 65 million people live, thanks to populist policies which include cheap health care, soft loans, and other government giveaways.

Whether the car bomb was an attempt on the prime minister's life or not, Thailand's stability has become increasingly fragile after at least nine, possibly 13, counter-insurgency officials charged by police for involvement in the alleged coup attempt.

Mr. Thaksin immediately fired the military's Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) deputy chief, Gen. Pallop Pinmanee, on August 24 after Gen. Pallop's former driver was arrested in a bomb-laden car near the prime minister's home.

Fearsome, tough-talking Gen. Pallop reportedly trained in the United States, and worked alongside the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in America's failed "secret war" in Laos, when the Vietnam War spread across Indochina more than 30 years ago.

Gen. Pallop repeatedly denied involvement in the bomb plot.

Armed with warrants, police on Friday (September 8) hunted a handful of other ISOC officials, after arresting five ISOC officers.

The arrested five included Army Sgt. Chakrit Chantra who confessed to participating in "some stages" of the car bomb coup plot, according to police Lt. Gen. Montree Jamroom.

"Army Sgt. Chakrit has confessed to committing wrongdoing," the police Central Investigation Bureau's head, Lt. Gen. Montree, said at a news conference on Thursday (September 7), declining to elaborate on the lengthy video taped confession.

Sgt. Chakrit reportedly said the conspiracy's mysterious mastermind -- known as "General P" -- was actually Gen. Pallop in ISOC, which is Thailand's secretive, counter-insurgency center, tasked with combating Islamist separatists in the south.

"I don't know who made up this plot to have him [Sgt. Chakrit] implicate me," Gen. Pallop said on Thursday (September 7).

"If police summon me, I won't run away. I will wait at home to see what they do. I'm not guilty and have no idea why I should plan to kill the prime minister," Gen. Pallop said.

Unfortunately, each apparent break in the case immediately suffers twists of intrigue, lies, incredulous media reporting, and other problems, making it difficult to determine who is telling the truth.

For example, after Sgt. Chakrit allegedly confessed, the Bangkok Post reported on Friday (Sept. 8) that a "source" in the Central Investigation Bureau claimed the ISOC officer agreed to cooperate with investigators because he feared he might be silenced -- an ominous possibility which the paper did not detail.

The five arrested ISOC officers also include Army Lt. Thawatchai Klinchana, caught on Aug. 24 allegedly sitting in the driver's seat of the bomb-packed car.

Arrest warrants, for everyone involved in the plot, charge them with attempting to murder Mr. Thaksin and his nearby on-duty officials, unlawful possession of explosives and war materials, forging and using official documents, and criminal conspiracy.

"There is a movement to bring the government to collapse and to kill the government's leader," Defense Minister General Thammarak Isarangkun earlier told journalists.

"These people aim to take power to lead the country," the defense minister said without naming the culprits.

Evidence and confessions were apparently being gathered to determine if a strong case could be made against Gen. Pallop.

Gen. Pallop studied "the Ranger course, and a counter-intelligence course, in the U.S. before being appointed in 1968 as chief of the Special Thai Ranger Army -- which carried out clandestine, anti-North Vietnam operations in Laos -- for one year," the Bangkok Post said.

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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