A new cavalry unit in Thailand’s north-east: Old wish, new threat?
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A new cavalry unit in Thailand’s north-east: Old wish, new threat?

By Saksith Saiyasombut

The Thai military is getting a new cavalry unit near the north-eastern town of Khon Kaen. The cabinet has recently approved the formation of the 3rd Cavalry Unit (essentially a division of tanks) that will cost 70bn Baht ($2.3bn). This is also a treat for privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda, who has mentioned that a third cavalry unit is a long-held one last wish, since he himself hails from the cavalry. But why is this approved now:

The new division of tanks will be a supportive unit for the Second Army Region serving along the northeastern border with Cambodia and Laos. (…)

Tanks played a key role in the fresh clash between the two neighbours when heavy weapons, including tank artillery, were involved at the border area near the Preah Vihear Temple from February 4-7.

Cabinet approves new Army divisions“, The Nation, February 2, 2011

Of course, why not use the recent clashes at the border as good opportunity to request more troops, equipment, vehicles and thus more money – not that the army isn’t getting enough new toys in recent months.

But before the recent clashes at the Thai-Cambodian border the reasons for the new cavalry unit were a bit different:

The idea of setting up a 3rd Cavalry Division arose from army restructuring. The changing national security situation and perceived threats were taken into consideration when deciding on the restructuring, the supreme commander said.

Cavalry unit for Khon Kaen eases closer“, Bangkok Post, January 7, 2011

National security situation”? I wonder what that means? Let’s go back to last summer:

Apart from the 7th Division, the army also plans to set up the 3rd Cavalry Division in Khon Kaen. (…) Although sources said that the set-up of the two divisions will be developed concurrently, the 7th Infantry Division looks set to progress faster than the 3rd Cavalry as it requires a shorter time and smaller budget. The 3rd Cavalry division will require a budget of about 70 billion baht to establish, plus a timeframe of about 10 years. (…)

Politically speaking, there is every reason to believe that the 7th Division will be set up sooner than the 3rd Cavalry, especially when considering the mission of battling Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts, a task for which the government has no one to rely on but the military. With the 7th Division in place, the government would certainly benefit.

Red presence forces military to establish new division“, Bangkok Post, July 29, 2010

Oh, of course! Since Khon Kaen is considered to be a red shirts stronghold it does only make sense for the government and the army to try to gain more control over the region. Now what would they do?

After the crowd dispersal at Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok, the army under the Isoc recorded the names and addresses as well as ID cards of the red shirts involved before releasing them. The army then visited them at home to try to provide “healing” in its own inimitable way.

Red presence forces military to establish new division“, Bangkok Post, July 29, 2010

Guess these people are in the same annoyance level of door-to-door salesman and missionaries. Kidding aside, the plans to speed up all these military projects show the original intent of the armed forces -control of its own people. And with a military chief determined to protect the nation’s highest institutions from what he sees as their enemies, one can see why. On the other hand though the military is at the moment busy with fighting at the Cambodian border for very dubious reasons.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai journalist and blogger still based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith.