Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Thai Army Chief

Thailand appoints new army chief

The King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej on Wednesday signed a royal command to appoint Assistant Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda as the new army chief, to replace junta leader Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who retires by the end of September.

The appointment was approved along with other changes in the annual military reshuffle list, which involved 463 senior officers in the three armed forces -- army, navy and air force -- and the Supreme Command.

The list was earlier forwarded by prime minister Surayud Chulanont sent to the King for royal endorsement and will take effect on Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2008.

The endorsement ended the months-long speculation in regard to who would hold the most powerful position in Thai military as Sonthi, who also served as chairman of Council for National Security (CNS), is due to retire by the end of September at the mandatory retirement age of 60.

Anupong, another assistant army commander-in-chief Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr and Army Chief-of-Staff Gen. Montri Sangkasap had been tipped to be the possible candidates for the top army post, while Anupong and Saprang emerged in latest days to be the two leading runners in the race.

Both Anupong and Saprang are ranking members of CNS and had played key role in last year's military coup that army chief Sonthi led to oust elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Sonthi had been tight-lipped about his choice of a successor before the announcement, but it had been widely speculated that Anupong was favored.

Anupong, was the First Army Region Commander-in-Chief, who is in charge of the national security affairs in the central region, including the capital, in 2005 when Thaksin was prime minister.

The 57-year-old Anupong has three years to stay on the army chief post before he reaches the retirement age if not removed.

The appointments were revealed on the day that marks the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 19 coup. The military reshuffle, particularly the appointment of a new army chief, has been closely watched by political observers, as the country is expecting a general election set in December that would produce a new elected government after more-than one year's rule by a junta represented by the CNS.

Different from the low-profile Anupong, Saprang had been an outspoken critic of Thaksin before he was deposed and had been urging the CNS and the interim government to speed up efforts to eradicate Thaksin's political assets.

The reshuffle has seen Saprang appointed as a deputy permanent secretary for Defense Ministry, while Montri as deputy army chief.