Apirat tipped as new army commander

Top officers fete Gen Prawit's birthday

First army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong, centre, and army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisad, right

First Army Region commander Apirat Kongsompong could be on his way to replacing the army chief next year in preparation for the next elected government, according to a military source.

Lt Gen Apirat is tipped to be made a full general and promoted to assistant army chief in the upcoming military reshuffle, which will pave the way for him to succeed army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad in 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday revealed he has forwarded the reshuffle lists submitted by the armed forces to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

This came after a meeting on Thursday of a Defence Ministry committee on the appointments and transfers of soldiers holding the rank of general.

A source said Lt Gen Apirat will be promoted to assistant army chief, and will hold the rank of full general after the reshuffle.

Lt Gen Apirat is also tipped to be the next army chief succeeding the incumbent Gen Chalermchai, who retires on Oct 1, 2018.

Lt Gen Apirat is a Class 20 member of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School. He has three years remaining in military service before mandatory retirement in 2020.

Having risen through the ranks of the 1st Division (King's Guard), Lt Gen Apirat is known to have close ties with Gen Prayut.

Lt Gen Apirat played a key role in the May 22, 2014 coup when he was in charge of the 1st Division, which was a key unit in the putsch.

The Government Lottery Office chairmanship was seen as his reward after the coup, the source said.

He is seen to be a polar opposite to the red shirts, after leading a raid on the Thaicom satellite station in Nonthaburi to take it back from red-shirt protesters in 2010.

He is tipped to be put in charge of the army during the political transition to support Gen Prayut, who could be elected as a non-MP prime minister, the source said.

The new constitution opens up the opportunity for a non-MP to be voted by parliament to become prime minister.

Lt Gen Apirat is a son of late military strongman Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, who led the National Peace Keeping Council that seized power from the Chatichai Choonhavan government in 1991.

Meanwhile, several cabinet members and several high-ranking military officers flocked to deliver birthday wishes to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who turned 72 yesterday, at his residence at the 1st Infantry Regiment of the King's Own Bodyguard.

Gen Prayut arrived at the residence at around 7.45am yesterday to give his birthday greetings to his deputy.

"I have been delivering birthday wishes to Gen Prawit since 1976. I can confirm he is in the pink of health, although he has just recovered from illness," the prime minister said.

Asked whether Gen Prayut discussed the future of the country with his deputy, he said Gen Prawit would always stand by him, adding they did not talk about the military reshuffle.

Speaking about the latest military reshuffle after a meeting on Thursday, Gen Prawit said the reshuffle list has already been finalised and has now reached the prime minister.

Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda and Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Surasak Karnjanarat also called on Gen Prawit to wish him well on his birthday.

So too did Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr and Ormsin Chivapruck, a minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office.

Gen Prawit said: "I'm 72 years old now. I want to see development and peace.

"The government and the National Council for Peace and Order have been working for three years. Conflicts should have abated."

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