Army reshuffle sees loyalists appointed
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Army reshuffle sees loyalists appointed

New list paves way for Gen Prayut's post-election return

The key appointment in Military Reshuffle 2018 was Gen Apirat Kongsompong as commander of the Royal Thai Army through 2020. The son of a 1991 coup leader, Gen Apirat is a trusted loyalist of the current military leadership headed by coup leader Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (File photo)
The key appointment in Military Reshuffle 2018 was Gen Apirat Kongsompong as commander of the Royal Thai Army through 2020. The son of a 1991 coup leader, Gen Apirat is a trusted loyalist of the current military leadership headed by coup leader Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (File photo)

The annual military reshuffle has seen the appointment of assistant army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong as the new army chief -- a position perceived to be critical to smoothing the way for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to reclaim his premiership and stay on in power after the next election.

The reshuffle, which involved 935 senior officers with ranks equivalent to colonel and upward, was published in the Royal Gazette on Saturday and takes effect on Oct 1.

Gen Apirat's promotion came as no surprise as it was already widely expected when he was appointed commander of the 1st Army in October 2016.

The 1st Army is known to be a key unit, controlling troops in 26 provinces in the Central Plains Region, the East, the West with headquarters in Bangkok.

Gen Apirat is known to have had Gen Prayut support for a large part of his career, giving rise to speculation that the army under his leadership will back Gen Prayut's return to power after the poll set tentatively for Feb 24, a source said.

Despite not coming from the Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East) -- the nickname of the military clique attached to the 2nd Infantry Division, the Queen's Guard -- Gen Apirat is known to have close ties with Gen Prayut.

Gen Prayut, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda are part of the Burapha Phayak clique.

Gen Apirat belongs to another military clique named Wong Thewan, which is attached to the 1st Division, the King's Guard.

Gen Apirat started his career and rose through the ranks at the 11th Infantry Regiment under the 1st Division.

When Gen Prayut staged the coup in May 2014, Gen Apirat served as commander of the 1st Division, in charge of the troops in Bangkok.

Gen Prayut then appointed Gen Apirat to oversee the Government Lottery Office when the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) focused on tackling overpriced lottery tickets.

Gen Apirat is seen to be a polar opposite to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), after leading a raid on the Thaicom satellite station in Pathum Thani to take it back from red-shirt protesters in 2010.

When the late UDD-affiliated army specialist Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, or Seh Daeng, made a critical remark against then-army chief Gen Anupong in January 2010, Gen Apirat led 11th Infantry Regiment soldiers to rally for Gen Anupong.

Being the son of late military strongman Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong (who led the National Peace Keeping Council that seized power from the Chatichai Choonhavan government in 1991) is also an asset, as this means that he has had wide connections since he was a young officer, the source said.

During his stint as assistant army chief, Gen Apirat was put in charge of an NCPO special operation team, taking assignments directly from Gen Prayut as NCPO chief, the source said.

Gen Apirat was also appointed by His Majesty the King as a special officer attached to the Royal Bodyguards Department under the Royal Security Command, according to a Royal Gazette announcement issued on July 17.

When he becomes the new army chief on Oct 1, Gen Apirat will also serve as NCPO secretary-general and commander of its peace-keeping forces.

Gen Apirat has two years to serve before his mandatory retirement in 2020 -- long enough to support Gen Prayut's bid for power after the poll, the source said.

Other new-appointees are also seen as strong backers of Gen Prayut, the source added.

At the Defence Ministry, Gen Nat Intaracharoen, deputy permanent secretary, is promoted to permanent secretary.

Gen Pornpipat Benyasri, chief-of-staff at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, becomes its commander.

At the Royal Thai Navy, deputy commander Adm Luechai Ruddit will become its commander, while assistant commander ACM Chaiyapruk Ditsayasarin is promoted to commander of the Royal Thai Air Force.

After Oct 1, holders of these positions will be appointed by Gen Prayut to replace their predecessors at the NCPO, supposedly the last group of members to occupy such posts before the general election.

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