Massacre general heads Thai army

Issue 

Massacre general heads Thai army

By Chris Beale

General Chainarong Noonpakdi has finally made it. Earlier this month, he was promoted to army chief of staff — the crucial post from which Thailand's 17 coups since 1932 have been launched.

Noonpakdi has the right experience and connections.

On May 17, 1992, he gave the order for troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators protesting against his brother-in-law, General Suchinda's, attempt at becoming an unelected prime minister.

In February '91, as commander of the Bangkok-based First Army, Noonpakdi was crucial in toppling Thailand's first fully elected government since 1976. No coup has succeeded without First Army support.

Noonpakdi was forced into a supposedly "non-political" back seat when splits in the military — and damage to the economy, where the military has enormous interests — brought Suchinda's exit, brokered by the king.

Noonpakdi has bided his nominal exile well.

Thai media often link Suchinda to trade and political deals involving Cambodia's Khmer Rouge.

Thai media over a year ago reported Noonpakdi returning visibly relieved and "happy" after a visit to London, where he met senior British military. John Pilger and others have clearly documented support for Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge via elite British SAS military units.

Noonpakdi spent 1994 as deputy chief of staff, where his prime responsibilities were intelligence work and civilian affairs. Grassroots democracy and trade union activists view his current promotion with anger and horror.

Officially, Noonpakdi's troops killed 52 during the May '92 uprising.

The real body count — by some of Thailand's most respected universities, NGOs and other activists, despite severe intimidation — is at least 169 dead. This is the number of people reported still "missing", after three years, by families brave enough to publicly say their kin were involved. Hundreds more were "wounded", many permanently maimed.

This writer witnessed gangs of heavily armed "head-hunters" — i.e. death squads — stalking unarmed demonstrators.

Last week's promotion of the general most responsible for one of east Asia's recent, most white-washed massacres of unarmed civilians makes a mockery of current Thai military claims they are "neutral professionals".

Far from it. Noonpakdi has finally made it — to the job where he can stage a bloody coup again.