Outgoing army chief Apirat Kongsompong, is denying that the US is seeking to establish a military base on Thai soil. At a press briefing, Apirat said that Thai and US troops have only carried out joint military drills, code-named Cobra Gold, and nothing more. The drills are a multinational exercise held annually in Thailand.
Apirat insisted the US did not ask to use Thailand as a stage for a base but admitted that US troops left behind some of their military equipment deployed during the drills, but says reporters shouldn’t read too much into this. However, Singapore has a longstanding agreement with Thailand, giving it access to a military area in Sai Yok district in the western Kanchanaburi province, in order to reportedly conduct military training. That agreement is renewed every 3 years.
Apirat also defended the 2 day visit by the US Army Chief of Staff James McConville and his delegation after an activist criticised the government for not sending the visitors into the mandatory quarantine that was imposed for all visitors. He says the delegation will be tested for Covid-19 before and upon arrival to Thailand. Tests will be performed by doctors from the Public Health Ministry, Phramongkutklao Hospital, and Thai Airways International staff. These procedures will become a model for future visits by foreign delegations.
“Don’t stir up issues that might create conflict in the region.”
The US delegation are the first group of foreigners to officially visit Thailand since the country began lifting Covid-19 restrictions. McConville will meet Apirat and PM Prayut Chan-o-cha today and tomorrow.
In a related development, General Narongpan Jitkaewthae is widely expected to replace Apirat as army chief during the annual military reshuffle at the end of September. A military source told Bangkok Post that the reshuffle dominated a pre-session discussion shortly before a meeting between top military officials and the Royal Thai Police yesterday.
The source says that this time around the reshuffle will involve high ranking personnel whose names were brought up during the pre-session discussion. The source said a list of high ranking officers up for promotion will likely be presented to the chief of the defence forces next week before it’s forwarded to PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, who also serves as defence minister.
Apirat said yesterday he will retire at the end of September, adding he will no longer be active in handling government affairs after that month. He denies he will seek to extend his tenure as army chief. Apirat has also been rumoured to have long term political aspirations.
”I will pass the baton to the next army chief on Sept 30 when my duties will come to an end. There is absolutely no need to prolong my tenure.”
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