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Saturday January 23, 2010

Explosive rumour is true after all

If nobody heard the grenade go off, did it explode? And so the incident at the army headquarters went unreported for a week. The army insisted there was no cover up, only nobody asked about it.

AT AROUND 3am on Jan 15, an M79 grenade was fired into the compound of the Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok, landing near the office of Army chief General Anupong Paochinda.

The Thai authorities kept silent about the attack until the media broke the story a week later. In fact, as late as Thursday, Defence spokesman Thanathip Sawangsaeng had claimed that ill-intentioned people were trying to create chaos by circulating such a rumour.

Later that day, Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd acknowledged that the “rumour” was indeed true.

However, he said the army was not trying to cover up the attack but that nobody had asked about it.

Dangerous stuff: Police looking at the light anti-tank rockets, grenades and ammunitions found in the room of Khattiya’s driver in Bangkok on Thursday. — The Nation

According to Sansern, as reported by the Bangkok Post, a grenade was fired from an M79 grenade launcher into the sixth floor of the headquarters building, damaging a kitchen next to a fitness room.

“The grenade was likely launched at night because no one heard the sound of the explosion,” he said. He, however, denied that the blast occurred near the office of the Army chief.

Sansern said the army believed the attacker was not trying to injure or kill anyone but was trying to seek publicity.

“I talked to Gen Anupong, and he was not worried about the situation, nor did he feel humiliated. But he insisted that action must be taken under the law.”

The M79 grenade launcher, according to a report in The Nation, is the weapon of choice in recent attacks on political enemies.

In 2008, seven M79 grenades were fired (on different occasions) at supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD or Yellow Shirts as the anti-Thaksin movement is popularly known) who were camped at the office of the Prime Minister in Bangkok.

And in November 2009, PAD co-leader Sondhi Limthongkul was also targeted in an M79 attack. But it missed the target.

The usual suspect for M79 grenade attacks is Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a 59-year-old military specialist.

In 2008, Khattiya, who despises the Yellow Shirts, warned that if they continued their siege of the Prime Minister’s office, they would be doing it at their own risk.

Soon, grenades were launched at them, killing and injuring several Yellow Shirts supporters.

In November 2009, he made headlines when he slipped into Cambodia to meet up with former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the number one enemy of the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led coalition government.

On Thursday, the military authorised the police to raid Khattiya’s residence in the compound of the 4th Cavalry Battalion in Bangkok. They found an M26 grenade and a 38-calibre pistol with a number of bullets.

Later, police raided the home of Khattiya’s driver, Sergeant Natsit Suwannarat, and discovered more weapons – 32 grenades, 700 rounds of M16 ammunition, three packs of C4 explosives and 13 sticks of TNT, as well as some spent shells.

Khattiya denied that he was involved in the M79 grenade attack as he was not in the Thai capital at the time of the attack. In a telephone interview with The Nation, he said: “Many people dislike Anupong, or maybe some ‘third hand’ wants to create chaos.

“Don’t blame me. You have no evidence to pin it on me. If I had done it, he’d be dead, but I would not do such a thing, because he’s my friend.”

Previously, Khattiya had warned that if he was suspended (over the trip to visit Thaksin in Cambodia and for insubordination in publicly criticising Anupong), he would see to it that Anupong “could not go out on the streets”.

He has since been in conflict with Anupong over the army chief’s role in suspending him from active duty. On Thursday, in a scathing opinion piece in the Bangkok Post, its former editor Veera Prateepchaikul wrote:

“The tightened guard around the army chief following the recent grenade attack may give him a sense of security, but for the public at large the big question remains: how can we feel safe when the army chief himself is unsafe and needs more protection?

“This outrageous incident is a direct challenge to the authority of General Anupong in his capacity as the army commander-in-chief, not to mention a huge slap in the face.”