Tearful Thai general says ‘don’t blame army’ for soldier’s rampage

BANGKOK (AFP) – An emotional Thai army chief yesterday urged a nation in mourning over a mass shooting “not to blame the army” after a soldier gunned down at least 29 people in a rampage linked to a debt dispute with a senior officer. General Apirat Kongsompong, an arch-royalist more commonly prone to rants against pro-democracy figures, broke down in tears as he apologised during a televised press conference on behalf of the army to the victims of the shooting.

The gunman – Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma – was shot dead by a commando unit last Sunday morning, ending a 17-hour rampage that left 29 dead and scores more wounded.

The Thai army has been at pains to portray him as a rogue soldier rather than a product of the army system. Apirat said he would not stand down from his post in charge of an army which has seeped into all aspects of Thai life, from politics and business to conscription, with a mega-billion budget that has surged since the last coup in 2014.

“The army is a huge organisation comprising of hundreds of thousands staff… I cannot focus on every subordinate,” he said.

“There are people who criticise the army, I urge them not to blame the army… because the army is a sacred organisation,” adding “blame me – General Apirat.”

Instead he pledged to open a “special channel” to investigate all future complaints from junior officers about their superiors, blaming the attack on a debt dispute between the gunman and his commanding officer.

The gunman “did not receive justice from his commander and his relatives who promised him financial returns”, Apirat added, apparently from a commission over the sale of house.

Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Apirat Kongsompong reacts during a press conference in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP