Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Jamie Kenny mentions Thailand’s “black clads”. Who they?

Reuters has an excellent article that gets into this question.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE MEN IN BLACK?

Witnesses and grainy video footage revealed armed men with assault rifles and M-79 grenade launchers appeared under cover of darkness on April 10 during a heated standoff between red shirts and troops trying to break up a protest in Bangkok’s old quarter.

The government says the rebels, who wore black and covered their faces with hoods and balaclavas, appeared in the crowds of protesters and opened fire on troops, triggering chaos and prompting panicked soldiers to fire back in self-defence.

Government officials and the army believe the men in black are politically aligned with the red shirt movement and sought to cause bloodshed severe enough to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call a new election.

Red shirt leaders say the “black clads” are protecting them, but they don’t know who they are.

They’re protecting us…but we don’t know who they are. This strikes me as being very much of the times, a sort of inverted version of the Iraq war’s icon, the fake policeman.

The Reuters piece also digs into the back story some distance. A possible explanation is that the men in black – surely a better translation – are former members of an army unit created in the 1970s to fight insurgents, as part of the broader cold war counter-insurgency strategy. The force in question is the Rangers – the name is important, as US advisors created the same force in several countries, apparently unaware that the term’s cultural associations aren’t particularly resonant outside the US. How do you even translate it?

They were eventually disbanded 10 years ago, which suggests that there may well be people plying for hire or else just on the political market generally who served in them. Interestingly, quintessential modern thinker Thaksin Shinawatra was politically close to the army officer responsible for their creation.

Also, meet the community-radio hackers of Thaksinite rebellion.

Andrew Smulian’s arrest with Viktor Bout is interesting in a couple of ways; first, there was the investigation itself, as previously blogged. Then, there’s the fact that he was clearly well embedded in the system, as far back as 1997. Context; the accounts for Air Pass, a South African company Bout reversed Air Cess into in that year and left with its debts, are quite spread around. Even Richard Chichakli’s website shows a few pages from them – of course, none of the items that mention Viktor Bout, and certainly not the credit card bills with Richard’s name on them. I’ve had copies for quite a while.

A Smulian was the recipient of air tickets bought with the Air Pass AMEX card whilst Viktor Bout controlled the company, three times in the winter and spring of 1998; a total of R14,000 in tickets with Kenya Airways and SAA. He is also listed as receiving R1,025 in health insurance contributions a month at their Johannesburg offices. At the same time, another Smulian, E or Etienne, is down for R8,260 a month in salary under Flight Ops and the same health benefits. E Smulian received an R3,217 cheque from the company at the end of 1997; he was also claiming mobile phone bills and car rental on expenses.

We don’t know if there are two Smulians, but we do know that Andrew is a South African pilot, and that if there is another, this may explain the mystery Brit at the Bangkok Sofitel.

So why was Viktor in Thailand? Well, there are some possible explanations beyond the CTB theory that it was something to do with the Burmese junta, or the Chinese, or someone.

Specifically, there are reasons to think that South-East Asia might have been the next stop in the VB caravan, after Ostend, South Africa, and the UAE. Consider Imtrec Aviation; a regular on the various war routes out of Sharjah, they’re based (officially) in Cambodia but the aircraft, as ever, are based in Sharjah. Antonov-12 serial no. 1347907, for example, went from Aeroflot back in the days of respectability, via East Line or Avial and a spell on lease to the World Food Programme, to Aerocom, the Moldovan-flagged operation that was shut down after one of its planes was seized for smuggling cocaine through Belize, that shared aircraft with Jet Line International, Asterias Commercial, and ATI, and that was at the heart of the missing Bosnian guns case.

She later worked for Air Bridge Group, the short-lived Aerocom offshoot that wanted to operate from South-East Asia to Australia with aircraft that could open the rear cargo door in flight, and then, Imtrec. From there she was sold on to South Asian Airlines, a Bangladeshi-flag operation whose other aircraft included another An-12 leased from Imtrec that ended up with Veteran Airlines, yes, another regular Sharjah-Iraq/Afghanistan/Somalia shipper, and a very old Boeing 707 that was last heard of with Galaxy Air.

Galaxy Air? Yes. Galaxy Air, the people whose Il-18 serial no. 188011201 EX-786 was seized in Pakistan after a flight with 142 passengers, 20 of whom were standing in the aisle, during which one of the pilots collapsed with hypoxia. More relevantly, EX-786 had come via Phoenix Aviation of the UAE, a company repeatedly implicated in dubious activities there, formed from the old Viktor Bout companies Flying Dolphin and Santa Cruz Imperial. And another Galaxy Air Il-18, serial 185008601, EX-601, came from Santa Cruz Imperial via Phoenix Aviation.

Rolling the tape back a few, Antonov-12 serial no. 8345607 went from Imtrec to Daallo Airlines in Djibouti, and ended up with Click Airways in the UAE; one of the biggest operators on war routes there, and a company banned in the EU. On the way, as EK-12555, this aircraft survived a SAM hit over Baghdad whilst working for “private users in Armenia” – you could put it like that.

Then there’s the strange case of 3X-GDM, the Boeing 727 exported from the US to Afghanistan that was curiously involved in two other cases; the disappeared 727 in Angola, and the tragic Christmas Day 2003 crash in Cotonou. All three were traded via Afghanistan, Opa Locka in Florida, and the services of a company in the UAE called Financial Advisory Group; strangely enough, the Swazi registration 3X-GDM vanished shortly after the Cotonou accident to reappear on an An-12 in Cambodia. That aircraft (serial 401912) is now back with Avial Avn on the Russian register as RA-11372. Note that Andrew Smulian, Bout’s co-accused, was on the payroll of Air Cess back in 1998 when Bout wanted to move operations from South Africa to Swaziland.

Jetline International, the other one, owned two Il-62s it obtained from Viktor Bout companies Air Bas and Centrafrican Airlines, and leased in another from a Cambodian operator at the same time as it operated 3C-QRF, allegedly Bout’s financial manager Richard Chichakli’s plane.

Viktor Bout arrested in Thai hotel room on charges of arming FARC.

And I didn’t even know he *was* doing. More, as they say, as we get it.

Update: Here’s the pic – it’s obviously him.

My thoughts on the Thai coup, free signup required. Which will explain the title.

Interesting to see the classic model coup in action again. Turkey in 1997 had the so-called “virtual coup”, when the army didn’t actually leave barracks but did cause the government to fall by indicating its displeasure. But this was your Bolivian original, complete with tanks parked at key road junctions.

Still, there’s a lot of virtuality to such a coup. What function do the tanks serve? Nobody apparently expected any resistance from the army, and the townspeople spent most of the spring and summer demonstrating against Thaksin. This blogger was taken “to the tanks” by a cabbie. Clearly, they mostly serve to demonstrate that this here is your genuine putsch, no random mob violence.

Speaking of which, autumn’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets, boys. I’d give this a mark of about 4 out of 10 for revolutionary violence – after all, they successfully identified the TV station and stormed it, having comprehensively terrorised the police. But, being Hungarian irredentist fascists in 2006, they didn’t have enough clue to broadcast their own message rather than just take the TV off the air.

My thoughts on the Thai coup, free signup required. Which will explain the title.

Interesting to see the classic model coup in action again. Turkey in 1997 had the so-called “virtual coup”, when the army didn’t actually leave barracks but did cause the government to fall by indicating its displeasure. But this was your Bolivian original, complete with tanks parked at key road junctions.

Still, there’s a lot of virtuality to such a coup. What function do the tanks serve? Nobody apparently expected any resistance from the army, and the townspeople spent most of the spring and summer demonstrating against Thaksin. This blogger was taken “to the tanks” by a cabbie. Clearly, they mostly serve to demonstrate that this here is your genuine putsch, no random mob violence.

Speaking of which, autumn’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets, boys. I’d give this a mark of about 4 out of 10 for revolutionary violence – after all, they successfully identified the TV station and stormed it, having comprehensively terrorised the police. But, being Hungarian irredentist fascists in 2006, they didn’t have enough clue to broadcast their own message rather than just take the TV off the air.