Thailand's junta sidelines pro-Thaksin police, governors

Thailand's junta sidelines pro-Thaksin police, governors

BANGKOK - Thailand's military is conducting a systematic reshuffle to blunt the power of officials seen as loyal to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in what seems to be an effort to dismantle his support base and ensure he can never return to power.

Governors in 13 provinces have been transferred, mostly from the country's pro-Thaksin north and northeast, according to the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The junta is also restructuring the police, long seen as a bastion of support for Thaksin and his sister, ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Thaksin was a police officer for 13 years before resigning to start his own business.

Thaksin himself was ousted from the premiership in a coup in 2006, and the constitution was re-written under a military-backed government in an effort to limit his political influence. But Thaksin's sister came to power just a few years later, in 2011, after winning a general election.

This time the military seems intent on ensuring neither he nor his family can return. "They will finish what they started in 2006. They will make it difficult for Thaksin loyalists to make a comeback," said Kan Yuenyong, a political analyst at Siam Intelligence Unit.

The military has detained people from both sides of the political divide, but a disproportionate number are Thaksin's red-shirt supporters. It has closed down radio stations of his supporters and frozen the bank accounts of some.

It has secured a US$1.5 billion (S$1.89 billion) loan to make payments to rice farmers, seeking to reach out to Thaksin's rural power base.

At least 17 top police have been transferred over the past week, according to NCPO documents seen by Reuters. The purge includes top officers of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Thailand's equivalent of the US FBI, including DSI chief Tarit Pengdith.

Tarit declined to be interviewed for this article.

Spokesmen for both the police and military denied to Reuters that a political purge was under way. "These appointments are not political. They are based on appropriateness," deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said.

But senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, paint a different picture. "There is a systematic purge to ensure that those in key positions will cooperate with the military," a senior Bangkok police official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters. "That means removing those perceived to be Thaksin allies."

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