With the military getting publicly grilled about an apparent security breach at an armoury and an officer’s alleged unfair treatment of a subordinate, Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong apologised with tears in his eyes on Tuesday (February 11) for a rogue soldier’s shooting spree in downtown Nakhon Ratchasima that took 30 lives and left more than 50 others wounded.
In a press conference at Royal Thai Army headquarters, the clearly emotional general offered regrets and condolences for the damage caused by a member of the armed forces.
“As the Army commander, I apologise and I am deeply sorry for this horrible incident,” he said. “I offer my condolences to the families of the people who were killed, including the officers on duty, as well as to the scores of wounded victims.”
The victims and families of the deceased will be given all compensation to which they are legally entitled, Apirat said, and victims’ relatives who qualify will be offered jobs with the Army.
He asked citizens not to scold the armed forces as a whole because the Army is a “sacred” national security organisation with many good soldiers performing their duties and risking their lives to protect the country.
“If you want to scold or criticise, direct it to me, and I will duly accept all opinions.”
Apirat claimed that what triggered the mass murder by 32-year-old Sgt-Major First Class Jakrapanth Thomma was the gunman’s belief he’d been cheated in a property dispute by his supervisor and a woman relative. Both were shot dead at about 2pm on Saturday.
“The moment he fired the shots at innocent people, he became a criminal, not a soldier anymore,” the general said.
An hour later, the perpetrator drove his own car to military Camp Surathampitak and used his own pistol to rob the guard of a Heckler & Koch HK33 assault rifle and 40 rounds. With this weapon he fatally shot a private who was guarding the camp’s armoury and blew off the padlock so he could steal more guns and ammunition.
Apirat said Jakrapanth then stole a modified jeep, left the camp and headed downtown. Along the way, he shot at soldiers, police and civilians, finally entering the Terminal 21 shopping centre, where the mayhem continued for hours more.
The general pledged to “open a confidential channel to directly receive complaints from the military subordinates who feel they have been suppressed and treated unfairly by superiors”.
“I give my word that the channel, independent of the Army, will be confidential and a direct line to me. The plaintiffs, who will be required to identify their original unit and details of the injustice, can be confident that I will punish the wrongdoers the best I can.”
Apirat admitted some Army units appeared to be lax in guarding weapons and ammunition at camps, but said they would be investigated and punished. He pointed out, though, that the perpetrator of this tragedy worked at Camp Surathampitak and knew the operation well.
Veteran politician Chaturon Chaisang commented on Twitter that a soldier using Army weapons to kill multiple civilians and police and military officers wasn’t merely a matter of one individual’s behaviour. The Army must share in the responsibility, he said.
If the Army fails to recognise this, it’s unlikely that future such tragedies can be prevented, Chaturon said. Thefts and seizures of military weapons are occasionally reported, but the news fades without any improvements being made, and the Korat catastrophe merely confirmed that security is still lacking.
Chaturon dismissed Apirat’s “The moment he fired the shots at innocent people” quote as an effort to brush off responsibility.
National police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda has instructed officers to learn from the tragedy by carefully analysing the events, especially the security forces’ response. He wants to hear their evaluations in two weeks.
Chakthip, praised online for being on the scene at the mall, said everyone involved in the operation and those who lent helping hands were heroes and he extended his thanks to them.
Bangkok police chief Pol Lt-General Pakapong Phongpetra said the city and its officers were proud of Pol Captain Trakul Tha-asa and Pol Senior Sergeant Major Petcharat Kamchadphai, both anti-terrorism officers slain in Korat. They sacrificed their lives, he said. Their families will receive Bt2.5 million each in compensation and their children can count on jobs with the force when they’re older.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and several Cabinet members joined Apirat and Chakthip at a royally sponsored bathing ceremony at Wat Tri Thotsathep in Bangkok on Monday.
Trakul’s body was transported to his hometown, Chiang Rai, on Tuesday morning. A royally sponsored cremation is set for Saturday.
Petcharat’s royally sponsored cremation will take place at the same Bangkok temple on Sunday.
Prayut and other ministers and officials wore “polite-colour clothing” at Government House on Tuesday, a practice observed at state offices nationwide.
Prayut, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda were slated to attend a mass funeral in Nakhon Ratchasima on Tuesday evening.
Public Health Region 9 inspector-general Dr Pongkasem Khaimuk reported that 15 teams of psychologists and related personnel had provided the first 72 hours of mental health care for people less directly caught up in the tragedy.
Of 220 people deemed at risk of suffering acute stress – including Terminal 21 mall employees – 16 were suffering severe stress and two required medication.
Of the 25 wounded victims still in hospital, seven were in critical condition, he added.
Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin was on Tuesday still waiting for a formal police report on the event so that compensation payments can be arranged. The families of the people killed are expected to receive at least Bt110,000 each and the wounded will be compensated according to the severity of their injury.
Somsak said payments would be made within seven days of the police file being completed. In response to criticism that the amount awarded for a fatality was paltry in comparison to tourists, he pointed out that tourists usually carry insurance covering them for mishaps during travels.
The Government Savings Bank (GSB), Government Housing Bank and Krungthai Bank have all offered to waive the slain police and Army officers’ debts or lower the wounded victims’ loan interest to 0.01 per cent.
GSB and Krungthai extended the debt-waiving offer to the families of the slain police and Army officers who are their customers. GSB said it would also pay them Bt100,000 in assistance, and Krungthai Bt200,000.
GSB and Government Housing Bank offered to cut interest to 0.01 per cent for the full extent of the debt for the families of the dead civilian customers, while Krungthai limited the term to five years.
Krungthai also offered Bt50,000 to police and Army officers with serious injuries and Bt20,000 for the other officers with less serious injuries.
All three banks offered the interest reduction for five years for everyone who was wounded.