MILITARY IN THAILAND: WEAPONS, PERSONNEL, CORRUPTION, THREATS, MINES AND POLITICS

MILITARY IN THAILAND

Under normal operating circumstances, the minister of defense and the supreme commander of the armed forces are at the top of the chain of command and maintain control; however, real power is held by the three service chiefs. After the September 2006 coup, the army commander in chief was dominant, and it was unclear what the chain of command was. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007 *]

Defense expenditures in 2006 were estimated at US$2 billion, representing 1.09 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The military-backed administration that came to power following the September 2006 coup endorsed an almost 25 percent increase in the defense budget for 2007. A Ministry of Defense spokesperson said additional funding was needed to make up for shortfalls accumulated during Thaksin Shinawatra's five-year rule, expand the counterinsurgency campaign in the southern provinces, replace or refurbish equipment, and replenish ammunition, stores, and fuel stocks. The defense budget for 2007 was US$3.2 billion. After the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis the defense budget was slashed, as much as 30 percent in a single year. It wasn’t until the budget was boosted in 2007 that defense spending returned to pre-crisis levels. *

There have been allegations of widespread corruption, low morale and lack of professionalism in the Thai military, which has a history of manipulating and being manipulated by politicians and politics. Ever since the 1932 Revolution and particularly following World War II the Thai military has played a significant role in Thai politics. Thai generals have been behind most of the country’s dozen and a half coups and military regimes have ruled Thailand outright for a number of years. See History.

Some have of accused the Thai military of being too top-heavy. There are hundreds of generals that are a carry-over from the late 1950s to early 1980s, when Thailand was engaged in real warfare against a communist insurgency and its neighbors were engaged in full-out war. Reforms initiated in the mid-1990s aimed to make Thailand’s armed forces smaller and more efficient and easier to rapidly deploy in troubled places.

In 2004, legislation was introduced to reform the military. Among other things it called for a unified command for the military as whole and the army, navy and air force to work together to develop defense strategies and procure weapons and hardware.

Military Personnel in Thailand: Katoeys Exempt from Serving

Population in military: 0.49 percent (compared to 4.6 percent in North Korea and 0.73 percent in the United States).

Number of people in the military: 283,000 (compared 65,000 in Argentina and 3,300,000 in China. The military includes three branches: the Royal Thai Army (123,000), the Royal Thai Navy (77,000, including 2,000 naval aviation personnel and 27,000 members of the Royal Thai Marine Corps), and the Royal Thai Air Force (estimated at 47,500). Reserve forces total 200,000 personnel.

Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 17,689,921; females age 16-49: 17,754,795 (2010 est.). Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 13,308,372; females age 16-49: 14,182,567 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually:male: 533,424; female: 509,780 (2010 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Janesara Fugal of AFP wrote: “Not everyone is eligible -- recruits must be physically fit, at least 1.60 meters (5 feet 3 inches) tall and with a chest size of 76 centimeters or more. "I do a rough check on their limbs to see if they're bent or crooked, if they stand up straight or not, if they're disabled or got anything missing or anything too short or too long," said army officer Thongkham Maleesi. [Source: Janesara Fugal, AFP, April 14, 2011]

Also spared from serving their country are transgender 'katoeys', or ladyboys, such as Kridsada Kumsombat. "There are so many people and most of them are men. I'm afraid they might make fun of me," Kridsada said. Previously transsexuals were exempted on the grounds of a "psychological abnormality", but that has now been replaced by a "misshapen chest". "If they said I'm mentally ill it doesn't look good on my record. But this way it's ok. I feel like we have more rights because in the past ladyboys had to be soldiers but now that's changed," Kridsada said. "I'm so relieved and I really want to go home now!"

Military Service and Lottery

Military Service: Males reaching 21 years of age are subject to two years of compulsory military service. Males register at 18 years of age. Those between 21to 30 who have not served already are inducted by lottery. Anybody caught trying to escape conscription faces three years in prison, followed by a stint in the army. Volunteers may join at the minimum age of 18. Women may also join the military, but they are not accepted in the police or military academies. They do serve, however, as military academy instructors. They are not drafted.

Janesara Fugal of AFP wrote: At a school in Bangkok, “Anond Naknava nervously reached into the box and pulled out a red ticket that sealed his fate: up to two years of military service. For some young men in Thailand, conscription is literally a lottery. "It just wasn't my day. Everything went wrong. They mixed up my name. I had to go change it — I knew it was going to be me," said the 21-year-old college student, who must now take a break from his studies to join the navy...A crowd cheered as Anond pulled out the last red card, his face turning pale as officers led him away to sign up for military service. He admitted he did not want to be a soldier, but tried to look on the bright side. "Now I'm chosen, I'll get a salary and I won't be any trouble to my parents," he said. "If others can do it then I can do it too!" [Source: Janesara Fugal, AFP, April 14, 2011 **]

“Each April, around the time of Buddhist New Year, Thailand's armed forces launch a search for healthy men aged between 21 and 30 years old. This year the military needs almost 100,000 new recruits. Many of the places are filled by volunteers. The rest are drafted through a lottery that many hope to lose. By law all Thai men who do not volunteer for military service must attend the conscription lottery at least once after they turn 21. "It's the hardship. I'm afraid of the tough life," said Chakkrit Jitma, one of hundreds of potential recruits who turned up on a recent hot summer day at a school in Bangkok. **

“For parents too, there was a nervous wait to see whether their sons would be enlisted. Relatives and friends cheered when a potential recruit picked a black card, avoiding military service. "I couldn't sleep and I prayed to Allah so that he wouldn't be selected," said one mother, Amornrat Sombut. The worst case scenario is a posting in Thailand's deep south, where an insurgency waged by suspected Islamic militants has left more than 4,500 people dead over the past seven years. Military personnel are a particular target. "I don't want to be a soldier. I'm afraid of being sent to the south," said another potential recruit, Chanasorn Sodpakwan. Thai troops were also sent out onto the streets of Bangkok a year ago to crack down on mass opposition protests. More than 90 people died, mostly civilians, in a series of clashes between soldiers and demonstrators. **

“Instead of letting fate decide their future, many worried parents and young men apparently attempt to dodge the draft. Stories of bribes are common, although authorities insist they are clamping down. "We received some reports of corruption, and now we are investigating them," said Lieutenant Colonel Norapon Jitpanya, head of the military registrar department. A national football player caused a stir earlier this month after writing on the social networking website Facebook that he had paid 30,000 baht (1,000 dollars) to avoid military service. He later apologised and said he was joking.” **

Military Branches and Units in Thailand

Military Branches: 1) Royal Thai Army (Kongthap Bok Thai, RTA), 2) Royal Thai Navy (Kongthap Ruea Thai, RTN, includes Royal Thai Marine Corps), 3) Royal Thai Air Force (Kongthap Agard Thai, RTAF) (2010) [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The army has four regional armies, two corps, three armored infantry divisions, two cavalry divisions, two mechanized infantry divisions, two special forces divisions, one artillery division, one air defense artillery division, one engineer division, one economic development division, one independent cavalry regiment, eight independent infantry battalions, four reconnaissance companies, and one armored air cavalry regiment. Four rapid-reaction force battalions are being formed, and there are four reserve infantry divisions. The navy has three fleets (North Gulf, South Gulf, and Andaman Sea), one naval air division, and five naval bases (including one supporting its Mekong River Operating Unit). The marines are organized into one division with two infantry regiments, one artillery regiment, one amphibious assault battalion, and one reconnaissance battalion. The air force is organized into four air divisions. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]

Thailand has about 113,700 active-duty paramilitary personnel. These forces include about 20,000 members of a light infantry force called the Thahan Phran (Hunter Soldiers or Royal Thai Rangers), which was organized in 1978 to fight communist guerrillas and is now deployed in active troublespots along the border. The 45,000-strong Volunteer Defense Corps provides the border patrol police with law and order support during military emergencies and natural disasters.

Military Activities and Threats

These days much of the attention of the military is focused on the Muslim south and terrorism. In the 1990s and early 2000s drugs was viewed by many as the No. 1 security threat. Up until the 1980s there was a communist insurgency based in the jungles of northern Thailand.

In recent years the Royal Thai Navy has mainly been involved in surveillance of the Andaman Sea, primarily looking out for the interests of Thailand’s fishing fleet. It has also participated in some anti-piracy missions and been involved in keeping thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh from landing boats on Thai shores.

Thailand faces a number of external threats from cross-border activities. Those on the border with Myanmar involve the handling of ethnic rebels, refugees, and illegal crossings, often related to drugs and arms trafficking. There have been periodic armed border clashes between Thai and Burmese border guards. Some 98,000 Karen refugees live in camps on the Thai side of the Burma–Thailand border, and rebel members of this group have skirmished with Thai troops. In 2001 and 2002, Thai and pro-Rangoon forces clashed in Thai territory, leading to strained relations between the two nations. Similarly, separatist insurgents in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand allegedly have operated from neighboring Malaysia, leading to cooperation between the two governments and Malaysian arrests of separatist ringleaders. Thailand has periodically closed border areas where communist Cambodian insurgents at odds with the Phnom Penh government control neighboring territory. The Cambodian government has accused Thailand of complicity with the insurgents. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]

Democracy, Military and Government

Thailand along with the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea have relatively free-wheeling democracies. In Southeast Asia—an area ruled by authoritarian dictatorships—Thailand stands out as having a democratic government, but one that is troubled. Experiment with democracy began in 1932, when a coup created a constitutional monarchy. Since then there have been frequent coups and military takeovers.

The military has traditionally been a very powerful force in Thai politics. Major changes in government were often brought about by bloodless (and sometimes bloody) coups. The Thais are not great fans of the military but they realize play a part in guaranteeing their country's freedom. All you have to do is take a look at most of Thailand's neighbors—Cambodia, Vietnam. Burma and Laos—to understand what they mean.

The political power of the military is much less than it once was. Its secret funds and procurement practices have been scrutinized. Its control of television and radio has been challenged. When asked if a benevolent dictatorship suited Thailand, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was installed in 2008 with military help said: “Democracy is the best form of government and I don’t take the view that in any particular society or country there are conditions that would suggest otherwise. I can’t ake seriously the view that sometimes Thai people are not ready or suited for democracy. But I think every society has to go through a learning process. And at different times you have different challenges for democratic development.

The Economist reported: “There was a time, after the passing of its liberal 1997 constitution, when Thailand looked like becoming a role model for democracy and pluralism in Asia. The country's elite still want it to be seen as a progressive, democratic country and a serious diplomatic actor. Unfortunately, in recent years it has slid backwards. This started with abuses by Mr Thaksin, followed by the army's 2006 coup, and then the tacit backing that Queen Sirikit, some generals and Mr Abhisit's Democrat party gave to thuggish anti-Thaksin protesters, one of whose leading sympathisers is Mr Abhisit's foreign minister. Yet, while soldiers act with impunity and royalist rioters get soft treatment, the country's anachronistic lèse-majesté law is enforced rigorously. America and its allies long turned a blind eye to such stains on Thailand's reputation, because King Bhumibol and his army were staunch anti-communist allies.... But the cold war is long over. [Source: The Economist, January 29, 2009]

In an article entitled “The Thai Military and Politics: A Forth Branch of Government?,” Pravit Rojanaphruk wrote in The Nation: “After launching nearly 20 "successful" coups d'etat, the Army has established a firm presence in Thai politics, arguably becoming almost a state within a state. People on social-networking sites such as Twitter have been discussing the role of the Army vis-à-vis the government, with some even saying it is not part of the state. Perhaps it can be said that apart from the three branches of government - the executive, the legislative and the judiciary - the Army is increasingly affirming itself a major "semi-independent" political player, claming to be the ultimate defender of the throne and the country. If rogue, overly ambitious generals who see nothing wrong in overthrowing an elected government and a severely weak civilian administration are not enough of a curse, supporters of coups and military rule almost ensure that the Army will continue to maintain undue political influence in the years ahead. [Source: Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation, November 16, 2011]

see History

Corruption in the Thai Military

Thai military rulers have traditionally had close relations the Thailand’s Chinese dominated commercial community. Powerful military generals have stakes in casinos and illegal logging operations. It is widely believed that the methamphetamine trade is controlled by organized crime syndicates that are often run or protected by powerful civilian or military figures.

There has traditionally little accountability or transparency over the way military budgets were spent. Ranking officers had a great deal of freedom to purchase weapons systems as they saw fit. Some military leaders have made some dubious weapons and hardware acquisitions, presumably because they received kickbacks from the companies that sold them.

Ambika Ahuja of Reuters wrote: “The Thai military, whose more than 1,000 active generals outnumber those in the U.S. military which is at least three times its size, is also a perennial source of cost overruns and corruption allegations. The army budget has doubled since a 2006 military coup removed a government led by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption and later convicted in a Thai court of breaking conflict of interest laws while in office. [Source: Ambika Ahuja, Reuters, September 28, 2010=]

“Recent army procurement deals have raised questions of whether military corruption has worsened since the coup. These include a 350 million baht ($11.4 million) purchase of a leaky surveillance blimp last year and more than 700 UK-made GT200 bomb detectors that turned out to be an embarrassing scam — they are lumps of plastic with no working mechanical parts. The military said it would keep the airship if its U.S. manufacturer paid for repairs. It initially insisted the bomb detectors, which cost 900,000 baht ($29,360) each, worked fine until weeks of public outcry brought an admission they had flaws. But they said the purchase was above board. "Cases like these are hard to pin down because there is no serious investigation into who was accountable. It is usually taken as an honest mistake and the blame is on manufacturers. The procurement side gets off lightly," said Nuannoi Trirat, an economist at Chulalongkorn University who studies governance. =

Thai Military Intimidation, Politics and the Media

In June 2011, AFP reported: “Four Thai soldiers have been arrested in the northeast of Thailand for allegedly intimidating opposition activists ahead of a general election at the weekend, police said. The arrests came after Puea Thai party canvassers complained the troops drove to their villages in Nakhon Ratchasima province and told them not to get involved in politics, Police Lieutenant Colonel Suebtragool Theppiyawong said. Two sergeants, a private and a sub-lieutenant, along with one civilian, have been held and have denied intimidation. All five were also charged with carrying illegal firearms, Suebtragool said.

In March 2007, AP reported: “Thailand's military-installed government took over the country's only independent television station Tuesday and said it would be temporarily pulled off the air after it failed to pay millions of dollars (euros) in unpaid license fees. The takeover was expected after the government announced last week it would terminate iTV's license on Tuesday - the deadline for paying nearly 100 billion baht (US$2.9 billion; euro2.2 billion) in fines, unpaid broadcasting license fees and interest. [Source: AP, March 6, 2007^]

“Dhipavadee Meksawan, a minister in the prime minister's office, told reporters the station would be shut starting Wednesday but could resume broadcasts as early as Friday if government legal experts could resolve legal issues for the transition to new ownership. ITV - which stands for Independent TV - was once controlled by Thaksin. ^

Weapons of the Thai Military

The army has between 330 and 380 main battle tanks of various types, between 210 and 460 light tanks (some in storage), 32 reconnaissance vehicles, about 950 armored personnel carriers, 550 pieces of towed artillery, 20 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 1,900 mortars, more than 320 air defense guns, and an arsenal of antitank guided weapons, rocket launchers, recoilless launchers, and surface-to-air missiles. The army also has an unmanned autonomous search vehicle, a variety of fixed-wing aircraft, 3 attack helicopters, 158 transport helicopters, and 40 training helicopters. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]

The navy has 1 aircraft carrier, 12 frigates, 5 corvettes, 6 fast attack craft armed with missiles, 15 patrol craft, 7 mine warfare ships, 7 amphibious forces ships, and 15 support and miscellaneous ships. Naval aviation has 27 combat aircraft, 1 antisubmarine warfare aircraft, 24 maritime air patrol planes, 2 transports, 2 search-and-rescue planes, 14 antisubmarine warfare helicopters, 5 search-and-rescue helicopters, and 6 transport helicopters. The marine corps has 33 assault amphibian vehicles, 24 armored personnel carriers, 48 pieces of towed artillery, 14 air defense guns, and 24 or more antitank guided weapons.

The air force has 194 combat aircraft, 1 electronic intelligence aircraft, 3 reconnaissance aircraft, 2 survey planes, 38 transport aircraft, and a small fleet of aircraft used by the king and other VIPs as well as aircraft used for liaison purposes. Although the air force has no armed helicopters, it does have 34 unarmed helicopters. On the ground, the air force has one antiaircraft artillery battalion and surface-to-air missile forces.

Thailand posses a Spanish-built aircraft carrier. India and China are the only other countries in Asia that have aircraft carriers. Thailand is among the world's top ten weapons importers. In addition to the Spanish aircraft carrier, it has purchased U.S. F-16 and Corsair ground-attack fighters and Orion anti-sub patrol planes.

In July 2011 there were three fatal Thai Army helicopter crashes. In the third one three soldiers were killed and a forth was injured when a Bell 212 chopper following another helicopter on a rescue mission went down in Phetchaburi Province southwest of Bangkok. The death toll of three incidents was 17.

Thai Military Forces Abroad and American Military Forces in Thailand

Thailand had about 500 troops in Iraq from October 2003 to September 2004 and also sent a small contingent to Afghanistan. Since 2000, Thailand has sent observers, police, and troops to the following United Nations (UN) multinational peacekeeping operations: in Iraq–Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM), in Mission in Bosnia Herzegovina (UNMIBH), and in Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). As of January 31, 2007, Thailand had 12 military observers with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and 31 police officers with the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNMIT). [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]

The United States has just a small force—30 air force, 10 navy, and 29 marine corps personnel— stationed in Thailand. but the two countries have longstanding military relationship. A long-standing ally of the United States, through the Cold War and Vietnam War era, Thailand signed numerous bilateral defense and mutual security agreements between 1950 and 2003. In 2002 Thailand received Foreign Military Assistance from the United States in the amount of US$3 million; in 2003 it received US$3.7 million; in 2004, US$3.4 million; and in 2005, US$1.4 million. Most Thai military equipment is from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China.

Thailand is important to the U.S. military as a “foreward positioning” base, where U.S. forces can store equipment and use when they need to. Utapao Air Base (145 kilometers south of Bangkok) fulfills that purposes. During the Vietnam War it was used to launch B-52 raids on North Vietnam. It was utilized in a limited fashion by U.S. warplanes traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars there. It is also believed that captured al-Qaida suspects were brought there for interrogation.

The U.S. military has provided some help to Thailand’s anti-drug campaign. U.S. special forces trained a crack Thai anti-drug unit known as task Force 399. The American government has sold the Thais two Black hawk helicopters, the latest night vision equipments and provided them with satellite photos of drug production areas. Between 1965 and 2000, more than $800 million in foreign aid was given to Thailand to combat drugs.

Cobra Gold

The United States army and Thai army conduct regular joint military exercises together. Cobra Gold is annual series of wars games involving the United States and Thailand that has been conducted since 1982. It is a big deal, involving thousands of troops. It sometimes involves other countries in the region. More than 13,000 troops from the United States, Thailand and Singapore participated in the exercise in 2003.

Cobra Gold take places in Chon Buri, a Thai province east of Bangkok where the United States built up a massive military presence during the Vietnam War. In 2011, about 10,000 U.S. military personnel took part, along with about 3,400 Thais. Five other countries participated — Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. And nine countries sent observers, including China. [Source: Reuters, October 19, 2012]

U.S. -Thai Military Cooperation Under the Obama Administration

In June 2012, Craig Whitlock wrote in the Washington Post: “The two countries are discussing whether to run a joint military hub for responding to the devastating cyclones, tsunamis and other natural disasters that frequently strike the region. The center would be located at the Royal Thai Navy Air Field at U-Tapao, about 90 miles south of Bangkok. The U.S. military is well-acquainted with U-Tapao (OOH-ta-pow), where it built the two-mile-long runway — one of the longest in Asia — in the 1960s. The Pentagon relied on the airfield as a major staging and refueling base during the Vietnam War. [Source: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, June 22, 2012~]

“The Thai government has allowed the U.S. Air Force to use U-Tapao as a stopover for troop transit flights to the Middle East. The base is also the center for the annual Cobra Gold military exercises, which started out as a U.S.-Thai training program but now involves more than 20 countries. U.S. officials have been vague in public about how many troops they might send to U-Tapao or what missions they might perform if the disaster-relief center comes to fruition. The lack of information has bred suspicion in the Thai media and among opposition lawmakers, who have held up a separate project that would allow NASA to operate climate-change surveillance flights from U-Tapao this fall. Chinese officials have also expressed skepticism about an expanded U.S. military presence. ~

“Catharin Dalpino, a former State Department official and Southeast Asia expert, said any new U.S.-Thai military accords were likely to be “modest.” She noted that Thailand has a history of working closely with both superpowers and would be unlikely to sign any agreements that would alienate either Washington or Beijing. “The Thais have a long relationship with China and a positive relationship with China, but they do not see this as contradictory with maintaining a treaty alliance with the United States and a strong economic relationship with the United States,” she said. ~

“Some U.S. military officials said they also would like to upgrade naval access to Thai ports. The U.S. Navy is preparing to base four of its newest warships — known as Littoral Combat Ships — in Singapore and would like to rotate them periodically to Thailand and other southeast Asian countries. The Navy is also pursuing options to conduct joint airborne surveillance missions from Thailand, the Philippines and Australia, officials said. Pentagon leaders said one of their highest strategic priorities is to improve their surveillance of shipping traffic and military movements throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, home to some of the busiest trade routes in the world. ~

“In 2014, for instance, the Navy is scheduled to begin deploying new P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft to the Pacific, replacing the Cold War-era P-3C Orion surveillance planes. The Navy is preparing to deploy new high-altitude surveillance drones to the Asia-Pacific region around the same time. Under current plans, the drones will be based on Guam, but U.S. officials are also searching for Asian partners willing to host the aircraft. ~

Mines in Thailand

In August 2005, the Bangkok Post reported: “So far this month, two villagers and three border patrol policemen have been blown up by mines near the Cambodian border in Lahan Sai district of Buri Ram. All suffered terrible injuries, with one of the policemen losing both legs. This was not an isolated event. These deadly devices, an unwanted legacy from past wars in Cambodia and instability along the borders with Burma and Laos, cause death, dismemberment and disability, and Thailand has long been plagued by them. As of last year, 531 communities in 27 provinces along the Cambodian, Lao, Burmese and Malaysian borders were mine-contaminated areas, covering around 2,556 square kilometres. [Source: Bangkok Post, August 19, 2005]

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “The Cambodian conflict starting in mid-1975 saw the Thai-Cambodian border become the most protected, or most mined, area. More than half a million Thais in 530 villages and 84 districts are still affected by land-mines. Half of them live along the Thai-Cambodian border while the rest are spread along the Thai-Burma and Thai-Lao borders. Although the Thai-Malaysian frontier is considered free of land-mines, there are still four villages in Yala affected by hundreds of mines planted there during the communist insurgency. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, May 2006^^]

“A comprehensive study into the status of the Kingdom's land-mine problem - the Thailand Land-mine Impact Survey, begun in May 1999 and concluded in 2001 - recorded 346 "recent" casualties and an overall total of 3,468 casualties, of which 1,497 people were killed and 1,971 injured. The majority of these incidents occurred in the Thai-Cambodia border region, and 80 per cent of the "recent" casualties were adult males - the bread-winners in rural families.

“The area along the Thai-Cambodian border” is in the most urgent need. Over two decades after peace returned to this region, villagers in Trat, Surin and Chanthaburi still can't farm certain parts of their land. Land-mines in provinces like Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Ratchaburi - adjacent to Burma - were laid to deter guerrillas, and even drugs and arms smugglers from entering Thailand. But often the villagers living in these areas have become mine victims because of their lack of knowledge about the problem.

According to the Bangkok Post, “Not only do these barbaric devices cause enormous pain and suffering, they also reap a grim economic and social toll. In addition to the expense of medical treatment, and the cost to families of caring for injured relatives, they hinder the flow of goods and people and make large areas of agricultural land hazardous to farm, as has happened on our eastern border.

Demining Thailand

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “The Defence Ministry last year allocated just Bt18 million ($468,000)— down from the average Bt38 million annually, for de-mining operations. The amount is a pittance considering the way the government has plundered the budget for other purposes. For instance, Bt250 million wasted on the sloppy Thai pavilion at the 2005 Expo in Japan. Worse, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said it would not mind signing Tiger Woods for Bt250 million, to promote the country. And, Bt120 million was spent promoting Bangkok Fashion Week this year. In 1999, Thailand signed the international treaty banning land-mines. At that time it promised to get rid of all land-mines within 10 years. As of 2006 only a minuscule 0.3 per cent of land-mines in the Kingdom have been cleared. If this snail's pace is kept up, it will take approximately 2,000 years to complete what the country has committed to do.[Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, May 2006^^]

The Bangkok Post reported: “Bearing the brunt of the mine-clearing operation is the Thailand Mine Action Centre. Its task is a formidable one and it is shamefully underfunded and under-resourced. With the help of financial assistance from the United States and Norway, our deminers daily risk life and limb in hazardous operations designed to rid the country of all mines ahead of the April 2009 deadline set by the Ottawa convention. Their task is an urgent one as up to 100 farmers and other innocent citizens fall victim to mines here every year and nearly half of all victims are believed to die before reaching hospitals. [Source: Bangkok Post, August 19, 2005]

“Landmines can be cleared, as our deminers have shown, but only laboriously, slowly and at enormous expense. Getting rid of them, once planted, must rank as one of the most dangerous and highly-skilled tasks on this planet. Unfortunately, the fine example set by our mine clearance teams has not been followed by all our neighbours and only Cambodia and Malaysia have signed the Ottawa convention. Vietnam, Burma and Singapore have declined to do so and Rangoon actively uses landmines, cloaking what should be a source of shame in the guise of ``national security.'' Factions battling the military junta also make use of them.

Susan Walker, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her anti-mine efforts, “feels Thailand still lacks a serious, concrete and practical action plan, given that it has a disproportionately high number of landmine victims out of the 145 countries which have ratified the Ottawa Convention. She also echoed the concerns of local campaigners that landmine victims in Thailand receive insufficient care and assistance. No quality artificial legs and feet are available for them in state hospitals. Some of what is available breaks after three months because of the poor quality or are only designed for use in the city—not for farmers who need to walk a long way to gather food for their families. There is also a need for proper vocational training to be given to landmine survivors.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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