Saturday, 22 January 2011

Media spotlight rattles Prayuth

via CAAI

Army chief loses his cool as reporters start to dig deep - Delegation back home after talks over southern insurgency fail to make breakthrough - Cambodia's trio of defenders react quickly to anyone attacking their country or its leader

Published: 22/01/2011

Reporters have a professional responsibility to ask blunt and direct questions that effectively gauge the interviewee's ability to keep their cool.

Prayuth: Didn’t like focus on old shoes

In many parts of Asia, reporters are loath to ask the hard questions _ but army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha's patience with some reporters has run very thin over the past few weeks.

The general appeared touchy at times when he was asked to comment on the calls for disclosure of the budget used by the dissolved Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation since emergency rule was lifted in Bangkok and some other provinces.

Gen Prayuth was visibly agitated again later when reporters asked for his response to the allegation that Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon may be to blame for the military's perceived unwillingness to offer help to the seven Thais being tried in Cambodia for trespassing on that country's territory.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, to whom Gen Prayuth retains a close relationship, has advised the army chief not to show his emotions in the presence of reporters. But his advice may have fallen on deaf ears.

A source close to Gen Prayuth said the army chief felt he could not help losing his cool as the reporters were apparently picking fault with him.

The pressure from being in the limelight as a public figure is also getting to Gen Prayuth. He also is not used to being in the glare of the cameras.

His lifestyle has been the subject of media curiosity. His frustration surged when the media developed a fascination with his old shoes and shirts.

The source said Gen Prayuth is frugal. It does not follow that one must wear or use everything brand new when he is appointed army chief.

A source in the army said Gen Prayuth had passed a strict order over the dissemination of news by the army. Any information leaked from a military meeting is immediately checked to find the party who had blabbed.

The army chief has barred mobile phones and communication or recording devices being brought into meeting rooms.

He suspected some of the meeting participants may have deliberately switched on their mobile phones while the meetings were in progress to convey what had been discussed behind closed doors to reporters.

He said the newspapers published what he said at the meetings sentence for sentence, which meant someone had called the media and let them listen to the live meeting.

In the morning, Gen Prayuth has made it a routine at the army's news briefing to go through what newspapers and television has mentioned about the army.

Gen Prayuth normally watches news on Channel 3 and reads ASTV Manager newspaper, dubbed the mouthpiece of the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy. The general is thought to be ``anti-red'', a reference to his stand against the ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his pro-red movement.

The army chief is also suspicious of the motive of media outlets for comparing him to his predecessor, Anupong Paojinda. Gen Prayuth has been described as a career soldier and protector of the crown, as opposed to Gen Anupong who, according to some observers, came across as being aloof while in power.

The source said Gen Prayuth had confided with his close aide that the comparison was to drive a wedge between him and Gen Anupong, with whom he is connected through a strong fraternal bond.

However, there has been noticeable improvement after a close aide reminded Gen Prayuth that losing his cool could easily hurt his leadership, the source said.

When he was asked about the CRES budget again a few days ago, the army chief said he had everything ready to answer the reporters.

He explained that the budget spent on the operation to contain political unrest last year was lower than what many had speculated.

But there remains a barrier between the army chief and the media. He still refers to the media as mun, a Thai pronoun meaning ``them'' spoken with a tone of animosity.

Peace mission bears no fruit

A House committee that hoped to make a breakthrough in efforts to end the southern separatist strife has come back empty-handed from talks with an umbrella separatist group.

A delegation from the House committee on the security of the state travelled to Finland on Jan 11 to start talks with the people they believe could persuade separatist rebels in the far South into laying down their weapons.

Joh-aming: Headed delegation to Finland

The panel is headed by Joh-aming Tohtayong, a Muslim Democrat MP and authoritative figure on the separatist issue.

The insurgent attacks have taken place in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla provinces regularly since violence reignited following a January 2004 arms depot raid in Narathiwat.

Mr Joh-aming also acts as a policy adviser to the government on southern security affairs.

He made an appointment to meet core members of the United Front for the Independence of Pattani, better known as Bersatu, in neighbouring Sweden.

The Bersatu is an umbrella group that is believed to set the direction for separatist movements active in the far South. However, smaller coalition groups under Bersatu are known to think and act independently.

More than 10 committee members hoped to talk to Bersatu strongman Dr Wan Kadir, but were disappointed when he failed to turn up.

He sent Tuanku Ismael, the Bersatu secretary-general, instead.

The meeting, held on Jan 15 at Lund University in southern Sweden, was arranged with the help of a researcher who spent some time in the far South.

The separatist representatives at the meeting proposed that the Thai government deliver justice and fairness in handling insurgent suspects and establish an Islamic court to deliberate cases stemming from insurgent unrest.

The meeting, however, did not touch on the issue of a ceasefire as it was the first time the representatives and the panel had met face to face.

It is unclear if they will meet again.

The panel members arrived back in Thailand yesterday.

Some prominent leaders of separatist networks live in Scandinavian countries that have provided a venue for peace negotiations.

Observers are sceptical that talks between Bersatu and authorities will yield results, because militant forces in the South, including the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, may not welcome the peace gesture.

Musketeers all for one

Cambodia's Press and Quick Reaction Unit's key men Phay Siphan and Tith Sothea have joined fellow spokesman Koy Kuong in defending the interests of Cambodia and its premier Hun Sen.

Cambodia's so-called Three Musketeers have been very effective in their swift political responses to whoever picks a fight with their beloved leader.

Sok An: Supervises press reaction unit

The unit was established in June 2009 in a sub-decree signed by Hun Sen and comes under the supervision of veteran politician Sok An, minister of the council of ministers.

From the outset, the unit aimed to react to news or any information disseminated by national, international sources and critics that is deemed a threat to Cambodia, its government and its national identity.

The Three Musketeers are part of a modernised and restructured Cambodian administration with veteran politicians, diplomats and brothers-in-arms in place as advisers to the government.

The group includes younger-generation Cambodians and their faces have become familiar with both local and foreign media as they have been doing their jobs as quickly as their unit title suggests.

Phay Siphan, in his early 50s, was one of the ministry's so-called 16 secretaries of state. A former refugee boy at the Thai-Cambodian border, he holds dual Cambodian and American citizenship and has been serving the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) for the past three decades.

Phay Siphan was an appointed senator under the CPP quota before the Cambodian senate became an elected one in 2006 thanks to his loyalty to the CPP. In 1979, he migrated to the US.

During his senate years, Phay Siphan and two other senators were sacked because of their opposition to a CPP-sponsored bill.

He was invited back from the US to become the unit's mouthpiece. Chhang Song, his senator colleague and also former information minister during the Lon Nol-led regime, was also invited to be an adviser to the Hun Sen administration.

Tith Sothea and Koy Kuong are 10 years younger than Phay Siphan. Like other spokesmen elsewhere, they have risen to the spotlight amid disputes and conflicts.

The unit's responses have been very timely in English and targeted the international audience. It has aimed its fire at the ultra-nationalist yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in Thailand and Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The unit is well staffed to monitor hostility, verbal or otherwise, against the Cambodian leader and their country.

The unit has complained strongly to Google that its cyber maps grossly misrepresent Cambodia's long-contested border with Thailand.

It has also responded to any critical NGO reports such as those furnished by Freedom House and Human Rights Watch that rank Cambodia low for its human rights record.

Earlier, the unit lashed out at key PAD members such as ML Walvipa Charoonroj in May and Sondhi Limthongkul in August for what it said were their attempts to obstruct the two countries from reaching a resolution to their border conflict.

No comments: