[Marxism] Thai Soldier in Mass Shooting Had Business Clash With His Commander
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Tue Feb 11 07:09:30 MST 2020
NY Times, Feb. 11, 2020
Thai Soldier in Mass Shooting Had Business Clash With His Commander
By Richard C. Paddock, Muktita Suhartono and Ryn Jirenuwat
KORAT, Thailand — Fellow soldiers described him as quiet and affable, a
skilled marksman who liked to play soccer. But people who knew
Jakrapanth Thomma also knew this: He had a deep-seated grudge against
his superior officer, a colonel, and the colonel’s mother-in-law,
believing that the pair had cheated him in a land deal.
On Saturday, he shot them dead, and embarked on a deadly, 18-hour
rampage that became Thailand’s worst mass shooting in memory. In all,
Sergeant Major Jakrapanth, 32, took the lives of 29 people before the
police shot him dead as he hid in a seven-story shopping mall.
“Nobody can escape death,” he posted online during his killing spree.
“Rich from cheating and taking advantage of people … Do they think they
can take money to spend in hell?”
As a soldier, the gunman was a small part of one of Thailand’s most
powerful institutions, which is heavily involved in both politics and
business. For some, joining the military is a means to power and wealth,
and many high-ranking officers have their own side businesses in
addition to their official duties.
The colonel’s family flatly denied that he had cheated Sergeant Major
Jakrapanth, but the Thai military hierarchy remains a system in which
senior officers often take advantage of the lower ranks and conscripts
are known to serve as their servants.
“It says a lot about the Thai military that the sergeant major would be
entangled in land deals with his commanding officer’s relatives,” said
Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based analyst who writes for the Jane’s Group
of defense publications. “This is not how truly professional militaries
Senior officers operate with impunity, he said, which can breed
resentment in the lower ranks.
“In Thai society it is not uncommon that those with rank and privilege
treat their subordinates dismissively or unfairly,” he said. “When in
the military, the subordinate in question has access to weaponry. Things
can go badly wrong.”
The military has staged 18 coups since the end of the absolute monarchy
in 1932; the most recent one, in 2014, installed the current prime
minister, the former general Prayuth Chan-ocha. In 2017, the military
won voters’ approval of a constitution that gives it the dominant role
in today’s quasi-democratic government.
Sergeant Major Jakrapanth, called Jak by his friends, grew up in one of
Thailand’s poorest regions, and on graduating from high school, he
enrolled in a military academy for noncommissioned officers. He rose
steadily in the army, achieving the rank of sergeant major first class,
the highest possible for a noncommissioned officer.
The prime minister, Mr. Prayuth, who met Sunday with some of the 58
injured victims, said that the gunman had been enraged over a “land
problem.” He said it was a conflict that could have been resolved
But soldiers say they have little recourse in disputes involving a
Sergeant Major Jakrapanth began the rampage by killing his superior
officer and his mother-in-law. It was unclear why he went on to kill
people at a temple, and then holed up in one of the city’s largest and
most popular malls, where he gunned down many more.
“Nobody knew what was in his mind,” said the minister of social
development and human security, Juti Krairerk, who came to Korat to help
counsel survivors. “Nobody knows even now because he is already dead.
You can only speculate.”
On Monday, grieving families held funerals and dozens of local residents
visited the mall, Terminal 21, to leave flowers. Workers and volunteers
began cleaning up the mall in preparation for its planned reopening on
Relatives of victims picked up coffins from the morgue, including that
of police Senior Sergeant Major Chatchawal Thaengthong, who was among
the first to respond to the shooting.
In a slow-moving motorcade, relatives, army officers and police
officials delivered the coffins of two police special forces officers to
the airport. There, hundreds of mourners and an honor guard sent them
off to Bangkok, 160 miles southwest of Korat, where they were to receive
a royally sponsored bathing ritual.
The dispute that preceded the massacre involved the gunman’s superior
officer, Col. Anantharot Krasae, and a business operated by the
colonel’s family that sold homes and helped soldiers borrow money from a
military lending program.
Often soldiers would borrow amounts that gave them cash surpluses above
the value of the houses they were buying. At times, the surplus could
equal as much as a third of the value of the property.
The colonel’s wife, Pornlaphat Mitrchan; her mother, Anong Mitrchan, and
her father, Narupol Mitrchan, a retired colonel, were all part of the
A friend of Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth, who asked not to be identified for
fear of retribution, said that the sergeant major had expected to
receive about $13,000 in cash back from a loan they had arranged — a
significant sum — but the money had disappeared.
He asked repeatedly for the money but did not receive it and had lost
hope, the friend said.
On Saturday, the sergeant major met with Col. Anantharot, Ms. Anong and
a property agent to discuss the money he was owed.
He shot all three, killing the colonel and his mother-in-law. The agent
was seriously wounded but survived.
The friend, who said he had not been in recent contact with the gunman
but followed him on Facebook, said many soldiers were cheated in similar
fashion and were sympathetic to his plight, even after the massacre.
Many soldiers and low-ranking officers feel like they are treated like
slaves by their superior officers, he said.
Surviving members of the family defended their transactions with the
sergeant major in interviews with Thai media, and blamed a third party
for not paying him the money he was owed.
“No, we did not cheat him,” said Mr. Narupol, the retired colonel. “We
were actually trying to help him because he was the subordinate of the
colonel and had debts.”
Ms. Pornlaphat, the colonel’s widow, said that the family built houses
to sell to soldiers but insisted that her mother and her husband, who
were killed in the rampage, had nothing to do with the money owed to the
sergeant major. She said he was owed about $1700 from the loan for the
house, which he bought for about $50,000.
“This was the discount from the house he bought from us,” she said.
She added that her husband had never bullied or oppressed the sergeant
“My husband was a very kind guy,” she said. “You can ask his subordinates.”
Richard C. Paddock has worked as a foreign correspondent in 50 countries
on five continents with postings in Moscow, Jakarta, Singapore and
Bangkok. He has spent nearly a dozen years reporting on Southeast Asia,
which he has covered since 2016 as a contributor to The New York Times.
Muktita Suhartono reports for The New York Times in Indonesia and
Thailand. She joined The Times in 2018 and is based in Bangkok.
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