'Don't blame army'

'Don't blame army'

Apirat sorry for soldier's rampage

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong weeps as he apologises for the mass shooting in Nakhon Ratchasima, during a media briefing at Royal Thai Army headquarters on Tuesday. Somchai Poomlard
Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong weeps as he apologises for the mass shooting in Nakhon Ratchasima, during a media briefing at Royal Thai Army headquarters on Tuesday. Somchai Poomlard

Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has vowed to terminate unsound internal army projects, after shady transactions were raised as a possible motive behind a soldier's shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima that left 30 dead and 58 wounded.

Speaking at the Royal Thai Army headquarters on Tuesday, Gen Apirat apologised for Jakrapanth Thomma's rampage in a Korat shopping mall on Saturday, and said the gunman lost his military status as soon as he first pulled the trigger.

"The moment he pulled the trigger he became a criminal, not a soldier anymore," he said.

The army chief admitted the shooter was maltreated by his commanding officer and the officer's relatives, and admitted there were many "unsound" projects, including for welfare housing, loans, and projects which involved cooperation between military units and merchants.

Gen Apirat said he had already terminated some of these projects, adding this was the first step in sorting out problems that had plagued the army for a long time.

He said the army provided enough free accommodation for its personnel so they can save money to buy houses after retiring.

The army chief said that military retirees who continued to live in army accommodation have been given until the end of this month to move out and make way for serving soldiers.

"These projects must be reviewed. I will cancel unnecessary ones such as gun sales to soldiers for private use," Gen Apirat said, adding that there would be "many reshuffles and transfers to inactive posts".

He said that he had opened a channel via which lower ranks could file complaints against their superiors directly to him.

This complaints channel would be permanent, he said.

"As commander of the army, I apologise and I am wholeheartedly sorry that the man behind the incident was a soldier," he said, referring to 32-year-old Jakrapanth.

"I extend my condolences to the relatives of the slain victims."

Twenty-nine people were killed, and 58 other people suffered wounds before the gunman, a Sgt Maj 1st Class, was killed by police commandos.

The army chief also recounted the chronology of the shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima's Muang district.

He said the murderer was a soldier who served with an ammunition battalion of the 2nd Army Support Command in the northeastern province.

Gen Apirat said the shooter first used his personal weapon to kill people with whom he had a conflict at their residence.

The man then drove his vehicle to the armoury at Suranaree camp, threatened the guard and stole more weapons, including an assault rifle which he used to kill the guard.

He also stole an army patrol vehicle which he crashed into an arsenal to steal more ammunition before heading for Terminal 21 shopping mall.

Gen Apirat said he would take all the blame for what happened.

He asked people not to blame the entire army, saying the military was doing its best to ensure national security and help victims of disasters.

He failed to hold back tears as he mentioned the people killed during the rampage.

"There are people who criticise the army. I urge them not to blame the army ... because the army is a sacred organisation ... Blame me -- General Apirat", he said.

The army chief said he had no intention of resigning from his post. He is due to retire in September.

Meanwhile, the Thai media reported that the shooter was motivated by a personal conflict over a house sale involving a relative of his commanding officer.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday that the army is investigating alleged irregularities involving a housing programme for soldiers, adding that the project is well-meaning in itself and aims to give soldiers their own houses.

However, the army is looking into whether anyone exploited the project for personal gain, the prime minister said.

"Therefore, this serves as a major lesson for all involved to make improvements to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future,'' Gen Prayut said.

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