Unarmed forces: Thai army suffers first weapon theft of the year

Originally published at Siam Voices Media outlets have reported on Friday that over 130 weapons have been stolen from an army arsenal at 1st Infantry Battalion at the army's Infantry Centre in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The disappearance was noted during an inspection by a commander of the battalion and quickly reported local police on Thursday night. The weapons missing make up quite an impressive loot:

Capt Apiwat [Saengsoong, a company commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion] said the weapons found to be missing were: 117 M16 rifles, ten 11mm handguns, ten rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, five M79 grenade launchers, four M60 machine guns, one 60mm mortar, four Minimi light machineguns and a large quantity of assorted ammunition.

"Guns missing from arsenal, sergeant-major flees", Bangkok Post, February 4, 2011

During the day, some weapons have been found though:

On Friday morning Lt-Col Manorot and military police went to search the house of a sergeant major who was suspected to have stolen the weapons, and found part of the missing arsenal. However, the sergeant major was not there. He fled before military police arrived.

"Guns missing from arsenal, sergeant-major flees", Bangkok Post, February 4, 2011

Army weapons being stolen are a regular occurrence with at least two similar incidents reported in the last 12 months - the last one in September in Lop Buri and the other in March earlier that year from a base in the southern province of Phatthalung. In both incidents, there were no signs of break-ins or any other traces of force. All-in-all, a pretty big embarrassment for the armed forces.

The question now in such cases is what happens with the weapons and where do they go. In this particular case, the suspicion seems to be already very clear:

The source said the sergeant major who had fled was known to be involved in illegal arms trading.  Nobody knew which groups he had sold weapons to -- be they Karen on the Thai-Burmese border, the red-shirts or southern insurgents.

"Guns missing from arsenal, sergeant-major flees", Bangkok Post, February 4, 2011

Also, to underline that this is not a new phenomenon The Straits Times wrote about this matter back in October.

Most of this war material went overland to insurgents in Burma and Laos, (...) But it is the domestic sourcing that is likely most relevant to the unsettled atmosphere now prevalent in Thailand.

Weaponry obtained in Thailand and destined for the black market trade originated mainly from local military stocks or from unscrupulous arms dealers. (...)

"According to a Bangkok-based intelligence source," I wrote in 2000, "one method of siphoning from Thai army stocks involves over-reporting the amount of ammunition consumed during training exercises."

The paper further notes: "Locally- sourced military equipment is largely purloined from Royal Thai Army stocks. This includes material simply stolen from storage areas and material obtained with the collusion of corrupt military personnel who over-report usage and siphon off the excess.

"Arms trafficking in Thailand not a new phenomenon", by Robert Karniol, The Straits Times, October 18, 2010

The author points out the attempts to link the disappearance of the weapons to radical, violent elements of the red shirts or a third party inciting chaos in order to destabilize the national security and to discredit any anti-government movement, as seen during the red shirt protests last year where numerous explosions have occurred, mostly by M79 grenade launchers.

Shortly after the weapons theft in March 2010, there was a certain amount of fear that these would be used during the red shirts' protest that began shortly thereafter. Now we have yet another theft and also another upcoming red shirt protest next week - so let's see how long it will take until the finger pointing starts.

BONUS: For those who understand Thai I recommend to watch this post by @thaitvnews, where it shows that the army has denied the disappearance a few times until they have finally admitted that the weapons are gone...!