The military-installed government here sought to confront its
inauspicious beginnings this week. The target was the head of
Thailand's national police force - notorious for its inefficiency,
corruption, and extrajudicial killings.
Meanwhile, arsonists burned schools in the countryside,
insurgents in restive southern Thailand continued their attacks
unabated, and the investigation into Bangkok's deadly New Year's Eve
bombings yielded few leads.
For coup supporters, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's decision
to oust police chief Kowit Wattana, seen as an ally of deposed
premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was long overdue.
But while axing a top officer may be a good start toward turning
the police into a professional, trustworthy, and responsive
organization, few in Bangkok expect any breakthroughs in Thailand's
many unsolved cases over the past few years.
Moreover, human rights groups fear the generals may simply be
using police reform as a cover for purging their uniformed rivals
and consolidating power under the military, leaving citizens with
little recourse to check the men with guns.
"The overall issue is rivalry between the forces," says Giles
Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. "It is
high time we reform the police, but it's also high time we reform
the Army, which is prone to staging coups and tearing up
The longstanding divisions between the police and military became
more pronounced after a coordinated set of bombings killed three and
injured scores on New Year's Eve. Mr. Surayud and coup leader Sonthi
Boonyaratglin immediately fingered political opponents and dismissed
outright any connection to separatist violence in the majority Malay-
Muslim southern provinces, where similar bombings since January 2004
have killed hundreds.
Faced with increasing pressure to make arrests, Mr. Kowit last
month ordered police to detain 15 suspects, some of whom were
connected to military units once commanded by the coup leaders. They
were all released within a week due to lack of evidence, however,
which many analysts saw as leading directly to Kowit's dismissal.
Meanwhile, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), a Thai
version of the FBI that rivals the police force, has recently joined
the probe. The DSI announced last week that the Dec. 31 bombings may
be linked to southern insurgent groups after all. Investigators are
now searching for Thawansak Jehna, who the DSI says may have been
among the suspects captured on closed-circuit television planting
one of the bombs at a Bangkok mall. Mr. Jehna is also wanted for
other terrorist attacks in southern Thailand. …