BANGKOK — A prominent critic of the armed forces on Monday warned that the deadly shooting rampage in Korat last year is bound to happen again if the army fails to address problems within its ranks.
Narongchai Intharakawi, an ex-sergeant who was prosecuted in 2020 for speaking up about army corruption, said the military’s internal channels to hear grievances from its personnel is “a farce,” despite insistence from army officials that the system is sufficient to prevent another tragedy.
“This kind of incident will never go away,” Narongchai said in a phone interview. “The army was putting up a farce. They said they had a call center [for reporting corruption]. I used that, too. But they never took a look at how it really worked.”
“People have already forgotten about Korat,” he continued, “Why hasn’t the army admitted how it treated its people? We can only count the days before some junior ranking soldier blows up again.”
This week will mark a year since a disgruntled army sergeant stole weapons from his base and went on a shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima province on Feb. 8, before he was shot dead by security forces the following day.
The sergeant’s rampage left 30 people dead, including himself. More than 40 were injured. It was the worst mass shooting in Thai history.
Reports emerged after the massacre that the soldier was cheated by his commanding officer in a land deal and unable to seek justice from the army’s internal complaint system. Then-army chief Apirat Kongsompong immediately promised reforms and implemented a “hotline” for junior soldiers to report their grievances.
Defense ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich said the army also trained its high ranking officers to uphold human rights and dignity when dealing with men under their command.
“We have lectured the commanders. We told them to have kindness for fellow humans, refrain from breaking the laws, and commit themselves to humanitarian principles,” Kongcheep said by phone.
“But sometimes people acted out of their greed. It’s not right to blame the whole system for it.”
The defense spokesman also defended the army’s complaint procedures introduced in the wake of the massacre in Korat.
“Soldiers can file their complaints directly through their commanding officers, but if their pleas were ignored, then they can file the complaints to someone in an even higher rank. They also file the complaints to the Ministry of Defense,” Kongcheep said. “In the era of social media, we can establish what the facts are.”
But ex-soldier Narongchai said the arrangement does not act as a reliable fail-safe, since the army continues to tolerate inappropriate behavior.
“There’s even a conflict over romantic relationships,” Narongchai said. “If they truly want a reform, they will have to amend the laws on army disciplines. They’ll have to specify, very clearly, what constitutes improper behavior.”
The 33-year-old served as an ordnance corps clerk to the army. He stands accused of deserting his post by the military after lodging a complaint against an alleged fraud in the army allowance money.
Just last week, two army recruits in Chonburi said they fled their base after they were beaten and tortured by a drill sergeant over marijuana possession. The army later launched an investigation and said there was evidence the assault did take place.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist and author on military affairs Surachart Bamrungsuk said the army should also seriously tackle the root cause of the 2020 massacre: officers’ involvement in business and financial deals.
“The cause wasn’t the weapons. The cause was problematic business dealings within the army,” Surachart said by phone on Monday. “The army should control how [its personnel] make money. I want to see a clear response from the army.”
Nakhon Ratchasima governor Wichian Chantaranothai said religious ceremonies will be held by the local authorities in memory of those who lost their lives in the massacre, though the date has yet to be confirmed.
Terminal 21, the shopping mall where a majority of fatalities took place, will hold its memorial service on Feb. 12, Wichian said.