Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thai Army Bullets Used in Sondhi Limthongkul Assassination Attempt

Royal Thai Army Connection to Assassination

Forensics analysis conducted in the past week have traced the M-16 bullets fired in the 17 April 2009 assassination attempt of Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) political party, according to reports from the Associated Press. The bullets were issued to the Thai First Army’s Ninth Infantry division.

How the army’s bullets came to be appropriated and used in the assassination attempt remains unknown. Likewise there have been no arrests. Yet it casts a cloud over the role of the military in Thai politics.

Meanwhile, Sondhi is reported to be doing better and is expected to be released from the hospital on Friday.

9th Division History

The Royal Thai Army’s 9th Division was originally known as the Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force, a Vietnam War-era unit that grew from a battalion (about 700-800 men) to a division size (11,266 men) between 1966 and 1968. The unit was incorporated into the Thai Royal Army as the 9th Division after its return from Vietnam in 1971. In 1981, it was assigned to the 1st Army’s area of operations, which is centered around Bangkok. It is responsible for internal security.

In 1997, the 9th Division was named in allegations of physical abuse of refugees fleeing the instability in Burma (now Myanmar). More recently, in 2002, the 9th Division was specifically mentioned in an Amnesty International report of the forcible deportation of 63 Myanmar refugees. Problems with diplaced persons and a flood of over half-a-million migrant workers have challenged Thailand for the better part of the last decade.

The Royal Thai Army has been a decisive factor in the coups and political turnovers of recent years. It was instrumental in the 2006 coup which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra. At that time, the military supported the PAD’s goal of deposing the Thaksin government.

Even considering the assassination attempt of a major political leader, threats of additional armed attacks, and the calls for the present government to step down, the two-week state of emergency Thailand has been under will be lifted, according to current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

For now, Thailand seems to have weathered a major political crisis. Yet the political intrigues are likely far from over.

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