Top army officers transferred
Trio sent to inactive posts after Defence secretary complained about minister interfering in the reshuffleDefence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat yesterday abruptly transferred Defence permanent secretary General Sathien Permthong-in and two other senior officers to inactive posts at the Defence Minister's Office.
Sukampol signed the order - to take immediate effect - at 2.30pm. The move of the three officers came just a few days after Sathien unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to complain about Sukampol's alleged efforts to interfere in the annual reshuffle of senior military officers.
The two other transferred officers were General Chatree Tatti, deputy permanent secretary, and General Pinphat Siriwat, director of the Defence Secretariat. The three were in charge of compiling the annual military reshuffle list. Deputy permanent secretary General Witthawas Rachata-nan was made acting permanent secretary of Defence.
In his order, Sukampol said the moves were made for the sake of "orderliness" in administration of the ministry.
Sukampol left his office at 3pm without giving interviews to reporters.
According to Sathien's letter to Yingluck, which was intercepted by PM's Secretary-General Suranand Vejjajiva, Sathien said Sukampol ordered him to nominate Army assistant chief General Thanongsak Apirakyotin as the new permanent secretary to replace Sathien, who will retire at the end of next month.
Sathien said in the letter that Sukampol gave the order during a meeting on August 17 when the minister summoned commanders of the armed forces to consult on the annual military reshuffle.
Sathien said the minister ordered him in front of other armed forces commanders to nominate Thanongsak to the position without convening the seven-member ministerial panel in charge of vetting job assignments. Sathien voiced concern that bypassing the panel, which comprises Sukampol, the four armed forces commanders, the Defence Secretariat director and the permanent secretary, would allow Sukampol to change the reshuffle lists of the four armed forces on his own.
Military sources said Sathien disagreed with Sukampol over the choice of Sathien's successor as well, because Sathien wanted his deputy, Chatree, to succeed him.
Some political observers believe Sathien raised the allegations against Sukampol in order to create a perception that the government has conflicts with the military. Sathien was prompted to do this, the observers believe, out of bitterness toward former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has reportedly ignored Sathien and no longer favours him.
Well-informed Pheu Thai sources said Sukampol wanted to nominate Thanongsak to the post of defence permanent secretary in order to demonstrate to Thaksin that Sukampol is in control of the armed forces.
The sources said Sukampol felt insecure and feared he could be removed as the defence minister because he could not weaken the unity of military leaders. Sukampol is the government's only vote inside the Council of Defence and was always beaten in the voting by the panel. He wanted to appoint Thanongsak, who is seen as close to him and siding with Pheu Thai, to become the permanent secretary so that he would have more votes on the panel, they said.
After learning of the transfer order, Sathien said he was not sorry to be moved - as he had stood up for what he believed was right.
Asked by reporters if the move was interference in military affairs by politicians, Sathien said: "I don't know. But I have done the right thing. It was fine, but later on the armed forces could face the same fate as me." He declined to say whether he would file a complaint against the defence minister.
Chatree said he didn't know the reason for his transfer. He said he had nothing to do with compiling the reshuffle list. He was just a candidate for the post of permanent secretary.
Chatree said he would consult with legal experts on whether he could file a complaint about the move, if it was deemed unfair.
Sukampol's order to transfer the permanent secretary prompted an attack on the government by a military senator and the opposition, which accused it of politicising military affairs. Appointed Senator General Somjet Boonthanom said the sudden move of Sathien would start conflicts between the government and the armed forces and could create a crisis for the government.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sukampol was trying to drag the armed forces into politics.
"The government should respect the intention of the Defence Ministry Administration Act and should not drag any mechanism or institution into politics for any interest," said Abhisit, who is also opposition leader.
Democrat party-list MP Kowit Tharana said Sukampol appeared to have been corrupted by power and would not stop, even though Sathien had exposed his plan to intervene in the military reshuffle.
Sukampol had damaged the military and ruined the future of a good military officer who was due to retire in just a month, Kowit said.