Army will not 'meddle'

Army will not 'meddle'

Nation's top soldier vows to support monarchy

Newly appointed army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae has insisted the army will stay away from politics and reiterated his pledge to protect the monarchy.

Narongphan: A red-rim soldier

Asked by reporters if he can guarantee there will be no military coup during his three-year tenure as army chief, he said: "The military will not get involved in politics. I will only answer questions about the army's affairs."

On Thursday, upon assuming the office of army chief, Gen Narongphan led a group of 232 army generals in a ceremony paying homage to the kingdom and vowed to safeguard the monarchy before the statue of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, at the Royal Army Headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue in Bangkok.

Gen Narongphan previously served as assistant army chief before being promoted to the top spot during the annual military reshuffle this year, replacing Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who retired.

The senior soldier has also succeeded Gen Apirat as commander of the special task force under Royal Guards 904.

Both men are members of the so-called red-rim soldier fraternity, specially trained to serve as Royal Guards. Those who pass the elite training programme are given a T-shirt with a red rim to signify their completion of the programme.

Gen Narongphan is the second red-rim soldier to take command of the army. The first red-rim soldier to take the army's top job was Gen Apirat. Speaking before his retirement, Gen Apirat said he was on good terms with Gen Narongphan, and they had worked closely together.

"We are very close," Gen Apirat said. "We talk to each other often -- two to three times per week." Both men studied at the army's Command and General Staff College before being deployed together on a mission in Yala between 2004 and 2005.

They also hail from a major army faction named Wongthewan (Divine Lineage), a reference to those from the King's Guard 1st Division in Bangkok, army sources said.

"Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are honourable tasks for [the generals]," Gen Narongphan said at a ceremony to bid farewell to retiring army generals at its headquarters on Sept 23.

"We faithfully pledge to carry [Thai] ideologies and perform our duties to the best of abilities to ensure peace in society and foster national unity and support the country's government," he added.

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