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Cablegate: Fears of Thaksin's Return Focus On Northern Border

VZCZCXRO1689
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHVC
DE RUEHCHI #0193 3111050
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071050Z NOV 06
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0319
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 0588
RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 0357
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS CHIANG MAI 000193

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV PREL TH
SUBJECT: FEARS OF THAKSIN'S RETURN FOCUS ON NORTHERN BORDER

REF: BEIJING 23354

1. (SBU) Summary. Northern Thai contacts dismissed as
groundless rumors that former Prime Minister Thaksin plans to
re-enter the country from China via Thailand's the northern
border. The 3rd Army is seen as a likely source for the widely
reported stories, either as a way of testing the waters for
lifting martial law or to justify continuing martial law.
End summary

2. (U) Continued speculation about Thaksin's whereabouts and
supposed plans to return to Thailand took a northern turn this
week as Thaksin traveled to China Nov. 1, reportedly on private
business (reftel). A weekend visit to Chiang Mai by coup
leader General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin and most of his Council for
National Security (CNS) colleagues helped fuel rumors that
something must be afoot in the northern region, considered to be
home base for Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party.

--- Slow boat from China?---

3. (SBU) Both a Bangkok Post reporter based in Chiang Mai and
a former TRT Chiang Rai MP believe the army is behind rumors
that Thaksin is trying to sneak back into the country via the
northern border. By strengthening security measures along the
Lao and Burma borders, the army gave credence to the idea that
Thaksin might try to return to Thailand along a route that
carries a whiff of illegal trafficking through the Golden
Triangle. Both sources questioned why Thaksin would go to the
trouble of traveling overland or via the Mekong River rather
than flying home, considering that he would end up under
"special escort" in either case.

4. (SBU) The Post reporter dismissed theories that CNS chief
Gen Sonthi's weekend visit to Chiang Mai had anything to do with
Thaksin's whereabouts. During a Nov. 4 meeting, Gen Sonthi,
accompanied by Assistant Army Commander-in-Chief and CNS Deputy
Secretary-General Gen. Saprang Kalayanamitra, said that his

SIPDIS
visit was aimed at briefing units with border responsibilities,
notably the Pha Muang Task Force and the 5th Special Forces
regiment, about broader tasks under the new legal framework for
the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). Under this
expanded authority and enlarged definition of national security,
these units' reach will no longer be limited to five kilometers
along the border but will cover the entire military region.

5. (U) Gen. Sonthi's Chiang Mai stay, which included a golf
outing, a Buddhist ceremony, a visit to a fortune teller and a
tour of the newly opened Royal Flora Ratchapruek exposition, was
also seen as an effort to gauge public sentiment in Thaksin's
northern stronghold.

---No sign of undercurrents---

6. (SBU) The former MP, who remains a TRT party member,
interpreted the rumors about Thaksin and reports about
counter-coup "undercurrents" in the north as excuses for the
military to extend martial law. He told ConGen staff that
neither he nor his community supporters in Chiang Rai had seen
any sign of so-called undercurrents in Chiang Rai, Thailand's
northern-most province, or any pro-Thaksin leaflets. While
some local politicians have capitalized on the situation to
attack their opponents as remnant pro-Thaksin or anti-coup
elements, even this has been on a small scale, he said.

6. (SBU) Comment: Fear of Thaksin's return is keeping the
generals on alert. As long as the army and the CNS worry that
Thaksin could outflank them, they are reluctant to give up the
security blanket of martial law. Ironically, the image of the
deposed prime minister as a political Houdini able to escape
back into Thailand at will also strengthens his profile as a
powerful presence who could return to a significant role in the
country's future.

CAMP

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