Wed, Feb 12, 2020 - Page 4 News List

Thai army general tears up over soldier’s rampage

AFP, BANGKOK

Royal Thai Army Commander in Chief General Apirat Kongsompong puts his handkerchief away after pausing a press briefing in Bangkok, Thailand, yesterday.

Photo: AP

The Thai army’s leader yesterday urged a nation in mourning over a mass shooting “not to blame the army” after a soldier gunned down at least 29 people in a rampage linked to a debt dispute with a senior officer.

Royal Thai Army Commander in Chief General Apirat Kongsompong, an arch-royalist more commonly prone to rants against pro-democracy figures, broke down in tears, as he apologized during a televised news conference on behalf of the army to the victims of the shooting.

The gunman — sergeant major Jakrapanth Thomma — was shot dead by a commando unit on Sunday morning, ending a 17-hour rampage that left 29 dead and scores wounded.

The army has been at pains to portray him as a rogue soldier rather than a product of the army system.

Apirat said that he would not stand down from his post in charge of an army that has seeped into all aspects of Thai life, from politics and business to conscription, with a multibillion-dollar budget that has surged since the last coup in 2014.

“The army is a huge organization comprising of hundreds of thousands staff... I cannot focus on every subordinate,” Apirat said.

“There are people who criticize the army, I urge them not to blame the army ... because the army is a sacred organization,” he said.

“Blame me — General Apirat,” he said.

COMPLAINTS CHANNEL

Instead, he pledged to open a “special channel” to investigate all future complaints from junior officers about their superiors, blaming the attack on a debt dispute between the gunman and his commanding officer.

The gunman “did not receive justice from his commander and his relatives who promised him financial returns,” Apirat said, referring to an apparent commission over the sale of a house.

Jakrapanth killed his commander and the commander’s mother-in-law first, as he embarked on the shooting spree.

Serving army top brass sit on the boards of state-run enterprises, while many declare assets in the millions of dollars, despite their meager soldier’s wages.

Army leaders routinely flip to become civilian prime ministers — often following coups — while barracks are accused of being hives of gray-area businesses, such as real-estate agencies and private security firms.

Senior officers often use conscripts as effective private butlers in taxpayer-funded grace and favor homes.

FIRING LINE

“I guarantee between February and April there will be many — from generals to colonels — who will be jobless,” Apirat said, promising to throw out retired army officers from government housing.

Apirat is due to retire in September.

Thais have flooded social media with criticism of their leaders for a perceived lack of empathy in the aftermath of the unprecedented mass shooting.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was on Sunday forced into rare public contrition after he smiled and high-fived a crowd as he visited Korat, the city where the shooting took place.

No member of the kingdom’s rich ruling royal family, who are buttressed by the army and protected by a defamation law, has visited survivors.

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