Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stance By Thailand Top Brass Seems Childish, Illogical

Generals don't want Jakarta to host Thai-Cambodian border meeting

Maybe we will never see the day, but it is imperative that Thailand and its people come to an understanding that the military must not be permitted to interfere with politics and that they are going to have to swallow the bitter pill of taking orders from elected civilians. For too long the country has put up with military interference in national politics. We come out in full force when they cross certain line, such as staging a coup d'etat, but we often overlook smaller incidents that are also important.

The latest fiasco centres on the military's threat to boycott a meeting to be held in Indonesia, the chair of this year's Asean Standing Committee. Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Army chief Prayuth Chanocha said they did not want the military-run General Border Committee (GBC) to meet in a third country. The meeting should be held either in Cambodia or Thailand, they said. One wondered what the big deal was, considering the fact that Thailand's military bigwigs love to travel. It wasn't that long ago that Thai troops went to East Timor to take part in a multinational peace-keeping operation. Oh, they sure milked that one. Even until today, Thailand's top brass continue to boast about how much the Timorese loved Thai soldiers. Try asking Thai citizens about how they feel about the armed forces, especially the ethnic Malay Muslims in the deep South.

But self-inflated ego runs deep among the Thai top brass even in the midst of a bilateral conflict that is pretty much beyond their control. No logical reason was given as to why they didn't want to go to Indonesia. It was just that they didn't like the idea of having it in Indonesia. The top brass didn't mind Indonesia observing the bilateral meeting as long as it took place in Thailand or Cambodia.

For the record, the idea of permitting Indonesia to mediate in this dispute with Cambodia was agreed upon by an elected government of Thailand. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya made the deal on behalf of the government. It was also agreed that Indonesia would facilitate this bilateral meeting in Indonesia. The plan was made in front of Asean members. Perhaps Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva should find the courage in himself to set his foot down and fire some of these top brass. He knows that in most democratic societies and governments, such behaviour would easily result in the dismissal of the top brass. Perhaps we still have a long way to go if our civilian leaders continue to let the military have their way.

The military has no right or any invitation to stick their necks into areas where they don't belong. Instead of their egos, they should try to think about Thailand's national interest and its credibility and international standing. Perhaps Kasit could have done a better job in terms of clearing the air with the military before entering into such an agreement with Indonesia and Cambodia. But this is not an excuse to huff and puff because some military top brass don't want to go to Indonesia.

By behaving childishly, the military is holding Thailand back from initiatives to resolve the border dispute. Essentially, this leaves the Cambodians with the moral high ground. Whether we like it or not, the boundary dispute with Cambodia has already been internationalised. The UN Security Council and Asean have had their say on the matter and the ball appeared to be rolling, until the Thai military throw a tantrum. Are they the only ones that love this country or it is the outdated attitude that basically makes their worlds final? Old habits die hard, it seems.

For too long the country has been on the defensive side with no strategic plan as Cambodia milked the situation and called Thailand the big bad wolf for dragging its feet. Now is the time to move on and move closer to a peace deal. This is no time for foot-dragging. If the top brass can't stand the heat or keep up with the pace, they should just go into retirement. The Nation [Thailand]

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