>Extended Report Covers:
– Cambodia Retains Thaksin as Economic Advisor Last November, Thailand Withdraws Ambassador from Phnom Penh
– Thaksin Collaborating with Thai “Leftists,” Smuggling Arms from Cambodia to Overthrow Monarchist Regime, Red Shirt Cadres Finding Refuge in Cambodia
– Thais Seize North Korean Aircraft with 35 Tons of Illicit Weapons in December; Five-Man Crew from Belarus and Kazakhstan
– Exiled Thaksin Taunts Thai Foreign Ministry in March 2010 Video Link to Red Shirt Supporters: “I’m in Russia”
– Cambodian Government Denies Its Citizens Participated (as Agents Provocateur) in Latest Red Shirt Protests
– Cambodia Test-Fires Soviet-Built Rocket Launchers in March, Welcomes Red China’s Defence Minister in Early May
Thaksin is believed to have borrowed money from a Russian oil company to finance his political comeback. He’ll be in big trouble with the Russians if he cannot repay that debt.
— Thai government source, quoted by Asia One News, January 14, 2010
At Once Upon a Time in the West we primarily focus on developments in the Not-So-Former Soviet Union and Latin America. In the wake of the Royal Thai Army’s decisive crackdown on the Red Shirt movement last week, however, we have decided to “catch up” with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s plot to overthrow the Thai establishment. In this endeavour, the ex-billionaire–who faces corruption and, now more recently, terrorism charges in his homeland–has received a “little help” from Thailand’s disgruntled communists; golfing buddy Hun Sen, Cambodia’s communist prime minister; the KGB financiers at Gazprombank; the “friendly skies” of North Korean aviation and, possibly, Viktor Bout, the alleged Russian arms dealer who for the last two years has made his home in a Thai jail cell.
This past Saturday Thai officials displayed a “large cache” of weapons seized from a stronghold of Red Shirt protesters in the country’s capital. The weapons included M-16 rifles, bullets, grenades, and bomb components. At least 15 people died in the final government offensive and more than 100 were wounded. Overall, during the two-month insurrection approximately 85 people, including 11 police and soldiers, died. Police acknowledge that eight Red Shirt leaders are separately incarcerated at a prison camp south of Bangkok and, after an initial period of leniency, their cell phones and text messaging devices were confiscated.
As they retreated, the Red Shirt protesters, under the leadership of “former” cadres of the “defunct” Communist Party of Thailand, torched a number of businesses, including the country’s stock exchange and Southeast Asia’s largest department store, Central World Plaza. “The fires in many areas in Bangkok were well prepared—step by step,” army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd explained at a news conference. Tables covered with weapons confiscated from the Red Shirts flanked the colonel during his speech.
Bangkok remains in a state of emergency and was under a dusk-to-dawn curfew through the weekend. However, on Saturday morning many shops opened, vehicle traffic returned to the city, and the curfew was lifted in the popular beach resort of Pattaya. The capital’s two major public transit systems were scheduled to reopen on Sunday with limited stops.
Amazingly, in a politically suicidal gesture, the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stated that it would permit Red Shirt gatherings, as long as they were peaceful. Thai media have reported that the Red Shirts intend to stage more protests Monday. “They can gather together as long as they don’t break the law,” intoned government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. Under the banner of the communist-led National United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), otherwise known as “Red Shirts,” Thaksin supporters have protested since his ouster in 2006.
There is some concern among Thai officials, though, that agents provocateur from Cambodia were circulating among the Red Shirt protesters. The Phnom Penh Post reports that Cambodia “has called on Thailand to immediately release a Cambodian man accused of committing an arson attack on a bank during violent protests in Bangkok last week.” Last Wednesday, during the military crackdown, Thai authorities arrested Cambodian national San Mony Phet, 27, while he was standing outside the beverage shop where he worked.
Tith Sothea, spokesentity for the Cambodian Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, denied reports, published by Thailand’s Krung Thep Thurakej Online on Friday, that Cambodians had taken part in the Red Shirt protests. “No Cambodian people have joined the protests in Bangkok,” he protested. “This information is completely exaggerated, which could cause diplomatic relations between the two nations to worsen.”
This past February, in a related story, Thai Labor Minister Phaitoon Kaewthong announced that his ministry would expedite the deportation of 500,000 unregistered migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. The reason behind this decision, Phaitoon admitted, was a rumor that these aliens could assay to join themselves to Red Shirt protests throughout the country.
Tracing the swirl of intrigue in Southeast Asia offers a glimpse into the Communist Bloc’s plan to destabilize and overthrow Thailand’s “bourgeois” regime, embodied by the monarchy and business and military figures who support the ruling Democrat Party.
On November 10, 2009 Thaksin, who has spent much of his self-imposed exile in Dubai, landed at an airbase in Phnom Penh. There he was whisked away by secure motorcade to a private audience with Cambodia’s communist dictator Hun. At this time Hun appointed Thaksin as economic advisor to the Cambodian government which, as we will learn below, is cravenly beholden to the communist regime in Vietnam. Outraged, the Thai government withdrew its ambassador from Cambodia, while the Cambodians refused to extradite Thaksin. Hun and Thaksin are pictured above at a subsequent meeting in Phnom Penh, on December 14.
Thaksin’s friendship with “ex”-Khmer Rouge cadre Hun actually began in 2001, if not before, when the former telecom magnate travelled to Cambodia to sign a protocol designed to promote peaceful relations between the two countries. Thaksin also expressed an interest in developing Cambodia’s oil and gas reserves.
The following month, according to Jatuporn Prompan, who represents the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party, asserted that Abhisit and his cabinet are preparing a “military option” against Cambodia if it becomes evident that Thaksin has set up a government in exile in Phnom Penh. Citing a letter allegedly addressed to Abhisit from Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Jatuporn stated: “Preparation of a military option is equivalent to preparing for war against Cambodia.” According to Jatuporn, the government memo describes Thaksin as “a major threat to the government” and asserts that “the fugitive ex-premier is using a two-pronged strategy to topple the government: cooperation with Hun Sen and activity by the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.”
A Thai Foreign Ministry official reportedly leaked the memo to the Pheu Thai Party during a press conference at the party headquarters. Kasit purportedly urged the government to “get rid of,” or assassinate, Thaksin. The Thai Foreign Ministry has not denied the existence of the document and its contents, but announced that it would investigate the origin of the leak.
That December Thai authorities at Bangkok’s Don Muang International Airport impounded a North Korean aircraft containing 35 tons of illegal weapons, including missiles, and detained the plane’s five-man crew, consisting of one Belarusian and four Kazakhs. The pilot had requested an emergency landing to refuel but, tipped off by Thai and foreign intelligence agencies, police pounced. Thai army trucks removed the weapons to a military depot.
The Thai media promptly speculated that this illicit shipment of weapons was bound for Thaksin’s Red Shirt supporters. In addition, it also considered the possibility the shipment was arranged by Viktor (“Lord of War”) Bout, an accused arms smuggler who not so coincidentally has been cooling his heels in a Thai jail since March 2008. The 43-year-old Bout joined the Soviet Army in the 1980s and is alleged to be a KGB/GRU operative, a charge he denies along with gun running. Bout has been resisting extradition attempts by Washington, which has linked his supposed deals with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Was Bout running arms for Thaksin when the Russian national was nabbed in Bangkok a little more than two years ago? Was jailbird Bout behind the arms shipment seized at Bangkok’s international airport last December? We’re not sure, but others have wondered. The Bangkok Post speculates:
The seizure of the weapons shipment from an aircraft at Don Mueang airport last Saturday continues to capture front-page headlines as investigators dig deeper into the case.
The arms shipment, about 35 tonnes, was loaded in Pyongyang and was believed to be destined for the Middle East. Worth about 600 million baht, it comprises missiles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and ammunition. Five crewmen, one Belarussian and four Kazaks, are in custody and were denied court bail.
It was suggested the arms shipment might be linked to Victor Bout, the alleged Russian arms trafficker currently in Thai custody, but this was not verified. In New Zealand, however, an investigation was under way to determine if a New Zealand-registered company is linked to the plane.
Incidentally, the Russian Mafia, which is staffed by “ex”-KGB types, has a strong presence in Thailand due to the country’s location within the Golden Triangle heroin-producing region.
In late December Suriyasai Katasila, leader of Thailand’s royalist New Politics Party (NPP), declared that “2010 will be a turning point for Thailand when Thaksin Shinawatra will collaborate with leftists to overthrow the current regime and establish a new one.” An online Thai news source also quoted Suriyasai as saying:
It is likely that they will use military troops to stage a coup, or use other violent means. Thailand’s security apparatus needs a major overhaul to cope with the threats from Thaksin, which affect national security far and wide. Thaksin is preparing for regime change. His target is to change the structure and the law.
Referring to the seizure of illicit weapons at Bangkok’s international airport that month, Suriyasai announced:
I have information and believe that previously there had been a weapons-smuggling flight into Thailand, but the government dared not speak the truth for fear of a public panic. Now weapons have been smuggled across the Cambodian border, and are ready for use by Thaksin. It’s likely he will use the weapons for political operations, with the target being regime change.
The NPP is the political wing of the anti-Thaksin pressure group, People’s Alliance for Democracy.
Along this theme, in April 2009—that is, months before Pyongyang dispatched 35 tons of illegal armament to an unknown destination in Southeast Asia—Stephen Kurczy pointed out that his employer, Asia Times “broke the news last week that pro-Thaksin groups had for the past two years funneled arms through Cambodia to Thaksin-aligned supporters in Thailand’s northeastern provinces.” Kurczy continues:
Meanwhile, there are widespread rumors circulated by some Thai media outlets that Thaksin’s on-the-run protest leaders have taken refuge across the border at Cambodia’s Koh Kong island and that the exiled former premier earlier this week paid them a clandestine visit. Cambodian authorities have consistently denied that Thaksin has entered the country, including earlier this week.
It is undoubtedly from these channels that the “shadowy armed wing” of the Red Shirt movement, consisting of black-clad commandos and rooftop snipers, obtained the grenade launchers and M-16 assault rifles used to repel Thai soldiers.
Since the Thai government has seized Thaksin’s assets, the power-hungry, commie-loving businessman has turned to KGB bankers to finance his comeback, clandestinely wiring the money to leftist agitators occupying the streets of Bangkok. In early April, following a ruling by Thailand’s Supreme Court to confiscate the fugitive politician’s assets, the Comptroller General ordered six banks holding 46.37 billion bahts in 30 accounts owned by Thaksin’s family to transfer the funds to the state’s revenue account.
On February 10 Sawamiwat, an aide to Pheu Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, refuted allegations from a government spokesman that Thaksin had been transferring money from overseas banks into Red Shirt leader accounts for at least two or three months. “The accusation is totally groundless. It is not easy to get money from Thaksin. The ex-premier now has not much money,” Pirat protested. Chavalit and Pirat are retired generals of the Thai armed forces, exposing the fact that Thaksin can possibly count on some support from active servicemen.
The same day Jatuporn Prompan, who is both a Red Shirt leader and Pheu Thai Member of Parliament, denied allegations that Thaksin had transferred 300 million baht into the bank accounts of “core” Red Shirt leaders. For his part, Abhisit retorted that his government is not accusing anyone in particular but is investigating the possibility of such financial linkages. “The government is determined to enforce the law strictly against any groups planning to stir up violence,” he warned. The Pheu Thai Party is the political wing of the communist-controlled UDD.
Intriguingly, from the viewpoint of those looking for the Kremlin’s hand in Thailand’s turmoil, Thaksin admitted during a March 30 video link to his Red Shirt supporters that he was then visiting Russia. “I tell you,” he taunted Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, “I’m in Russia now. I came from Sweden. But I wasn’t kicked out of Sweden, contrary to what the Foreign Ministry said. I’m in Russia to meet a billionaire who wants to invest in Asia.” The same day Thai Foreign Minister Kasit ordered all Thai envoys in Europe to locate Thaksin.
In response to allegations that the Kremlin permitted Thaksin to enter Russia without a passport, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesentity Andrei Nesterenko offered the following rebuttal: “In connection with the statements by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, we would like to confirm that the Russian Foreign Ministry does not posses official information concerning the presence of former [Thai] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Russian territory.” Translated from commiespeak, Nesterenko is admitting that the Russian Foreign Ministry could possess unofficial information concerning Thaksin’s clandestine visit to Russia.
During his premiership, Thaksin made some efforts to establish ties with Russia. As it turns out, reported the Thai media in January, Thaksin owes as much as US$1.5 billion to Gazprombank, a subsidiary of Kremlin energy giant Gazprom. Gazprom is a larger Russian equivalent of Thailand’s PTT Plc, in which Thaksin still holds a chunk of shares through nominee accounts.
Thaksin used the loan from Gazprombank to invest in Dubai, which itself is facing a financial meltdown. State-owned Dubai World, for example, is seeking to postpone payment of debt amounting to US$59 billion. Thaksin is also facing huge losses after his foray into the Dubai market. “With hardly any breathing space left,” editorializes Bangkok’s The Nation, “Thaksin is now fighting back fiercely. He will try to lobby the Supreme Court, bring down the Abhisit government and ignite the red shirt rallies in order to instigate a military intervention.”
Founded in 1990, before the stage-managed collapse of the Soviet Union, Gazprombank is the largest “private” bank in Russia but, in reality, is actually owned by Kremlin entity Gazprom. Gazprom directly controls 62.59% of Gazprombank’s shares and the remaining shares through its subsidiaries Gazfond and Gazprom Export. Gazprom was created in 1989 when the Soviet Ministry of Gas Industry transformed itself into a corporation, retaining all of its assets. Later, Gazprom was partly privatized but currently the Russian government holds a controlling stake.
Gazprombank’s deputy chairman is Andrei Akimov, a “former” KGB officer who during the 1980s reportedly worked as an undercover agent at Vneshtorgbank and Donau Bank, two KGB front companies in Switzerland and Austria, respectively. Akimov was also involved with Imag GmbH (later renamed Dehel GmbH) in Vienna, an “opaque” company that had “bafflingly convoluted company structures and accounting problems.”
In addition to borrowing money from the Russians to pour into ventures based in the United Arab Emirates, Thaksin also secured a loan to finance his return to Thai politics. Last January Asia One News quoted a source in the Thai government as saying: “Thaksin is believed to have borrowed money from a Russian oil company to finance his political comeback. He’ll be in big trouble with the Russians if he cannot repay that debt. But wherever he goes, he likes to have his photo taken with VIPs, to assert his status.”
Is Comrade Akimov Thaksin’s “billionaire Russian friend”? We may never know, especially if the KGB, with the assistance of Cambodian or Vietnamese intelligence, decides Thaksin has become “expendable.”
The Communist Bloc Sharpens Its Knives to Stab Thailand
Since last November’s diplomatic spat between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, relations between the two countries remain tense. Last December Cambodian officials released a Thai engineer who had been convicted of spying on Thaksin while the fugitive politician made a number of visits to Comrade Hun. Sivarak Chutipong’s release came as Thaksin show up in Phnom Penh for the second time in as many months, stopping by Sivarak’s prison cell to converse with the putative espionage agent.
The 31-year-old Sivarak, an employee of the Thai-Cambodia Air Traffic Services, received his pardon from Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni. The pardon was personally presented at Hun’s official residence. Sivarak was initially sentenced to seven years in jail for supplying Thaksin’s flight details to the Thai embassy when the former head of government visited Cambodia in November. However, according to Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, the secretary of Thailand’s foreign minister, Sivarak never handed any documents to Thai authorities. “I don’t think that there’s a secret here. In this case, we were only inquiring about [Thaksin’s flight information],” Chavanond related.
The situation along the Thai-Cambodian border is also volatile. On April 17 troops from both countries briefly clashed at the Ou Smach checkpoint along their common northern border. Both sides fired rifles, machine guns, and rockets after Cambodian soldiers reportedly ignored a demand from Thai counterparts to shift their location deeper into Cambodian territory.
Border tensions, reports the Cambodian media, heated up again on May 14 when the governor of Sampov Loon district, which is in Battambang province, asserted that a Thai spy plane penetrated five kilometres into Cambodian airspace and then travelled over several provinces before returning to Thailand. General Uk Khnuot, deputy commander of Battambang province military region, would not confirm the aerial incursion, but General Por Vannak, commander of Battambang military police, insisted that the Thais did indeed trespass into Cambodian airspace at high altitude.
This is not the first time soldiers from the two Southeast Asian countries have stared each other down. Two years ago a long-simmering border dispute nearly exploded into violence as 400 Thai and 200 Cambodian troops converged on the 1,100-year-old Hindu temple of Preah Vihear. The International Court of Justice had awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but in July 2008 three Thai activists arrived at the site to assert Bangkok’s sovereignty. Thai soldiers then drove Cambodian forces from one of the temple buildings. That month UNESCO recognized Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. Due to its inaccessible cliff-top location, Khmer Rouge forces remained holed up there until as late as 1998.
On March 5, 2010 the Cambodian military conducted multiple rocket tests in the remote Kampong Chhnang province (pictured above). Using Soviet-built BM21 rocket launchers, Cambodian troops fired 200 rockets, striking targets 20 to 40 kilometers away. Hun defended the military exercise as essential for national security, while Thai counterpart Abhisit downplayed the impact of the Cambodian drill on bilateral relations. By contrast, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan suggested that political instability has returned to Southeast Asia. “We are very concerned with such a development,” he lamented, but insisted that it was too early to determine whether the rocket launches were a provocation by Phnom Penh.
Although the Cambodian monarchy was restored after Vietnam’s invasion in December 1978, Phnom Penh was and is part of the Communist Bloc. Indeed, the Vietnamese intervention simply replaced one communist regime with another, that is, the genocidal Khmer Rouge was replaced by the non-genocidal Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The “ex”-Marxist-Leninist CPP controls all of the important organs of the Cambodian state to this day and maintains very close relations with the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Communist Party of China. Writing last year for the Asia Times, Kurczy, quoted above, describes the CPP’s subservient relationship with Vietnam’s red regime:
Despite Cambodia’s transition from a single-party Leninist state to multi-party constitutional monarchy, members of the CPP currently assume every ministerial position and control three-fourths of the National Assembly’s seats. The CPP maintains close ties with Vietnam, bonds that have strengthened as Cambodia looks east for a political ally and trade partner while links to Thailand come under strain from a border conflict and political protests that have targeted Hun Sen’s government.
“Politically speaking, it is a very unique, special relationship,” said Cambodian political observer Chea Vannath. “Vietnam still plays big brother whenever the CPP needs it.”
Expanding military-to-military relations between Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Beijing also prove this nexus. Earlier this month, Red China’s Defense Minister Liang Guanglie showed up in the Cambodian capital, where he met with Pol Saroeun, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. There Liang gushed: “Cambodia is China’s good neighbor, friend and partner.” He added:
Recent years have witnessed high-level contacts, a deepening of economic and trade cooperation, productive exchanges in science and technology, and sound growth in military relations between China and Cambodia. Both countries have also supported each other on major issues concerning their respective core interests.
China hopes to make joint efforts with Cambodia to consolidate their traditional friendship, promote reciprocal cooperation, and constantly enrich their comprehensive cooperative partnership.
Accompanying Liang was General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army. Chen enthused: “China-Cambodia military relations have smoothly developed with pragmatic and meaningful cooperation in personnel training and the building of military schools and hospitals. China is ready to work with Cambodia to further boost their military relations.”
For his part, Pol Saroeun affirmed: “The Cambodian government attaches great importance to its relationship with China and will continue to adhere to the one-China policy. The Cambodian armed forces would like to work with China to enhance cooperation in various fields.” Thus, Cambodia’s communist regime supports the Republic of China’s integration into the People’s Republic, whether peacefully or by force. This is the meaning behind Beijing’s “one-China policy.”
Cambodia also boasts closes military relations with Vietnam. In 2005 Cambodian Deputy Prime Ministers and Co-Ministers of National Defense, General Tea Banh and General Nhek Bunchhay, travelled to Hanoi, where they met with Vietnam’s State President Tran Duc Luong. “The defense ministries of the two countries should boost exchange of visits and further cooperate in implementing the border treaty by continuing with the planting of border milestones, the delineation of borderlines and maintenance of peaceful and stable borders,” Luong declared.
In return, the Cambodian generals promised to expand the search for the remains of Vietnamese soldiers who were killed in action in Cambodia 30 years ago. They also briefed Luong on measures to expedite the progress of finalizing the border treaty between the two countries. The Cambodians and Vietnamese also pledged to hold future exchanges of military delegations and conduct joint maritime patrols.
In February 2009, reports Kurczy in Asia Times, Vietnam’s defence minister dropped by to see Hun and pledged to continue to provide training for Cambodian soldiers in Vietnam, including over 100 in residence at Vietnam’s infantry academy. That month Cambodia’s prime minister applauded 21 high-ranking officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, including Commander-in-Chief Pol and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Kun Kim, for earning degrees in military science from Vietnamese military institutes. According to VietNamNet, “Hun also thanked Vietnam for helping to protect Cambodia’s national defense and economic development.”
If the communist-controlled, Thaksin-backed Red Shirt insurgency degenerates into open hostilities between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, then it can be expected that Vietnam and Red China, not to mention Laos and Myanmar, will support Cambodia, even if only diplomatically.