Defence: Thaksin not meddling

Defence: Thaksin not meddling

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat has denied reports that fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was behind the transfer of the ministry's permanent secretary to an inactive post.

ACM Sukumpol insisted that Thaksin had nothing to do with the appointment of the new permanent secretary for defence to replace Gen Sathian Phoemthongin.

He said work at the ministry had not been disrupted as the acting permanent secretary, Gen Witthawas Rachatanant, had full decision-making authority, the same as a full-time permanent secretary.

ACM Sukumpol also brushed aside questions about whethert the transfer orders he had issued had created a rift in the armed forces.

He insisted that the annual military reshuffle list had been made in line with the regulations of the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

Speculation over who is calling the shots at the Defence Ministry has been growing since last Monday, when ACM Sukumpol issued an order transferring Gen Sathian, deputy permanent secretary Gen Chatree Thatti, and Secretariat Department director-general Gen Pinpas Sariwat to work at his office. The three positions are considered inactive posts.

It was reported that the transfers stemmed from a conflict between the minister and Gen Sathian over the nomination of the next permanent secretary.

ACM Sukumpol supports assistant army chief Gen Thanongsak Apirakyothin while Gen Sathian, who is retiring, backed his deputy, Gen Chatree. Gen Thanongsak is older than the armed forces chiefs, while Gen Chatree is younger.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday that the conflict at the Defence Ministry reflected attempts to intervene in the military reshuffle, which should be free of political influence.

He claimed that the committee in charge of appointing and shifting generals had been changed to facilitate political influence, and that reshuffles would serve politicians' desires from now on.

Democrat MP Ong-art Klampaibul alleged this week that an influential female politician in the North whose nickname begins with the letter 'D' wanted Gen Thanongsak to be the new defence permanent secretary. The reference was to Thaksin's older sister Yaowapa Wongsawat.

ACM Sukumpol said earlier that the selection of permanent secretary rested with the ministry committee that vetted the annual military reshuffle lists. The six-member board consists of the defence minister, the supreme commander, the defence permanent secretary and three armed forces chiefs.

He said he had only one vote on the committee and the panel adhered to its criteria.

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