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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 October 2006, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Profile: Surayud Chulanont
Surayud Chulanont ( archive image)
Surayud Chulanont is seen as a dependable choice
Surayud Chulanont is a retired army chief and one of the few senior Thai figures who is respected by military and civilian leaders alike.

By choosing him as the country's new prime minister, Thailand's military generals hope he will quieten unease amid the international community.

They also hope his good reputation as a reliable and trustworthy leader will allay concerns that the military is choosing one of its own to be the country's new premier.

During a military career spanning 40 years, Gen Surayud gained a reputation for being incorruptible - an important point given the accusations of graft levelled at his predecessor, the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

We really consider that a retired general is a civilian
Gen Winai Pattariya, one of the senior coup leaders

Born in central Phetchaburi province in 1943, Gen Surayud's childhood was marked by the actions of his father, a senior officer who grew disillusioned with the army and fled into the jungle to become a communist guerrilla.

Despite this, he joined the army himself, and even fought against Thai communist insurgents in the 1960s. Later he saw action fending off incursions from Burmese troops and ethnic Wa guerrillas.

After rising through the ranks, he was in charge of elite troops involved in a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations in 1992, although he said at the time he never gave orders for his men to shoot.

After expressing his displeasure at the crackdown, in which many civilians were killed, he began to campaign for a more modern, accountable army, telling Time magazine: "It convinced me that the army should never be involved in politics."

Becoming a commander in 1997, he again prioritised the fight against corruption and rights violations - and was seen as a friend to Burmese refugees for the part he played in allowing them to seek refuge in Thailand.

In the late 1990s, Gen Surayud clashed with Mr Thaksin, who wanted to increase business ties with the Burmese military leaders. He was sidelined to the post of supreme commander, a ceremonial rather than influential position.

After leaving the army in 2003, he spent time as a monk, before being appointed to the Privy Council and becoming a senior adviser to the king.

Ironically, one of the main legacies from his long military career was his attempt to distance the army from politics.

He is seen as pivotal in changing the military from a self-serving, often corrupt, group of individuals into a more modern, professional organisation.

'Appropriate choice'

There were worries that giving the position of prime minister to a former general might fuel accusations that the coup leaders had no intention of giving up power, despite their promise to hand over a civilian government.

But the army does not appear to see Gen Surayud as military at all. One of the six most senior coup leaders, Gen Winai Pattariya, said recently: "We really consider that a retired general is a civilian."

Others seem to agree he is the right man for the job. Korn Chatikavanij, deputy general secretary of the opposition Democrat Party, described Gen Surayud as an "appropriate" choice.

"What is important is domestic reconciliation, and Gen Surayud is ideal for that," he told The Associated Press.

In the past, the former general has denied any intention of entering the political arena.

But now the military has taken over the country, and they need a prime minister whom they, the Thai people and the international community trust.



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