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Thai Coup Leaders Pursue Shinawatra Collaborators

Thai Coup Leaders Pursue Shinawatra Collaborators


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Military coup leaders on Thursday (September 21) hunted for politicians, officials and other collaborators of the toppled elected government and hauled some in for questioning, after the billionaire prime minister, his family, and several ministers fled to Europe.

The martial law regime also banned meetings by all political parties, and formation of new parties.

Self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the most despised person in this Southeast Asian nation, now suffers the indignity of having his face censored, as if it was obscene, when he appears on BBC and other satellite TV programs.

In this Buddhist-majority country where "loss of face" is often worse than doing evil, Mr. Thaksin's large, square visage is frequently broadcast on foreign news stations reporting on Bangkok's bloodless putsch.

But Mr. Thaksin's face is often suddenly replaced by a computerized TV screen-saver displaying portraits of Scarlett Johansson, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise and other foreign movie stars.

Verbal reporting about the coup crushing democracy, or America's condemnation of the military's move, or other critical analysis is allowed to be broadcast.

The self-appointed junta, calling itself an Administrative Reform Council (ARC), authorized the Ministry of Communications to "control, block and destroy" any media undermining "the council's political reform."

To make the junta's announcements and orders more attractive, the coup leaders hired Miss Asia 1987, Thawinan Khongkran, to read decrees on TV, based on her good looks, public relations work at the army's TV channel, and her university thesis which was titled, "The Role of the Media in Creating the Image of Miss Thailand from 1964 to 1988."

The junta also requested a more explanatory title be used to describe its regime, which Thai media translated as: "The Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM)".

"The name is important in relaying a right message, and a shortened version might be misleading," CDRM spokesman Lt. Gen. Palangkun Klahan told reporters.

Lt. Gen. Palangkun said news reports should not link the CDRM to past coups, such as the 1991 coup by a military group which dubbed itself the National Peace-Keeping Council.

That regime ended in a bloody 1992 insurrection pitting protestors against the army in Bangkok's streets, resulting in scores of dead and an end to its reign.

The Information and Communication Technology Ministry meanwhile told Thai media to not to broadcast phone-in comments from the public on talk radio programs, not to display text messages phoned into TV shows, and to delete provocative statements on Web sites.

While the new regime manipulates news and images, many Thais cheerfully boast how the smooth as silk coup instantly rid them of Mr. Thaksin, traditionally denounced as "Mr. Toxin".

The military -- backed by tanks, armored personnel carriers, U.S.-supplied M-16 assault rifles, camouflaged Humvees and other weaponry -- seized power with relative ease on a rainy Tuesday (September 19) night.

Security forces have since fanned out, hunting fugitive members of Mr. Thaksin's former government.

"Newin and Yongyuth Top the 'Wanted List'," read a Bangkok Post headline on Thursday (September 21).

Newin Chidchob is the former prime minister's office minister. Yongyuth Tiyapairat is former minister of natural resources and environment.

Mr. Newin "is wanted for his role in creating the pro-government media, to counter the moves of pro-democracy demonstrators," the report said.

He allegedly churned out strident propaganda in a desperate, failed effort to sanitize Mr. Thaksin against accusations by opposition politicians, businessmen, analysts, and others during the past several months.

Mr. Newin also allegedly forced Thailand's TV channel 9 to broadcast Mr. Thaksin vainly declaring a state of emergency on Tuesday (September 19).

Bizarrely, Mr. Thaksin made the announcement while visiting New York City, and his declaration was cut off in mid-sentence by the coup.

Mr. Yongyuth, meanwhile, allegedly mobilized armed forest rangers on the outskirts of the capital to confront a planned anti-Thaksin rally in Bangkok on Wednesday (September 20).

After the coup, he reportedly hid in a forest ranger's "safe house".

Mr. Newin and Mr. Yongyuth surrendered on Thursday (September 21), arriving in a pair of shiny, black limousines to meet the coup leaders at Army Headquarters in Bangkok -- passing a small, angry crowd taunting them at the gates.

Most of the prime minister's cabinet, close colleagues, and senior members of Mr. Thaksin's monopoly-minded Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais") party apparently fled to Singapore, Paris, Brussels and London.

Mr. Thaksin arrived in London on a flight from New York to meet his wealthy wife and three children, along with colleagues who gathered at a home he owns there.

Meanwhile, the coup's leader, Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, is currently also searching for a civilian to install as Thailand's new face.

"Now we are searching for a qualified person to be the new prime minister," Gen. Sonthi said on Wednesday (September 20) while basking in an announcement, attributed to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, endorsing the coup leader.

"We want a neutral one, who advocates democracy with a constitutional monarchy," Gen. Sonthi said, promising to find a willing candidate within two weeks.

The general allowed a respected, powerful, no-nonsense government auditor, Jaruvan Maintaka, to continue investigating suspicious contracts, business deals, expensive purchases, tax fraud, and alleged international bribery scandals linked to Mr. Thaksin and his administration.

Ms. Jaruvan's cases include the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission's finding of "foreign corrupt practices" by an American company selling airport bomb-detectors to Thailand, allegedly involving Thai officials.

The bomb-detector deal for Bangkok's new international airport involves InVision Technologies, headquartered in Newark, California, and incorporated in Delaware.

U.S.-based General Electric Co. bought InVision in December, the same month the U.S. Justice Department's Fraud Section revealed InVision's deal in Bangkok suffered "criminal liability associated with potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)" and fined InVision 800,000 U.S. dollars.

Patriot Business Consultants, a Thai distributor, appeared linked to InVision's contract with Bangkok's new airport.

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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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