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Thai army to transfer control of land after mass shooting

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CCTV footage of Thai soldier Jakrapanth Thomma holding a gun as he walks through the Terminal 21 shopping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima on Feb 9. He killed 29 people before being shot dead by commados,

[BANGKOK] Thailand's army agreed on Monday to transfer management control of 160,000 hectares of commercial land to the finance ministry in a drive to reform its business practices after a soldier went on a shooting spree over a property deal gone sour.

Sergeant Major Jakrapanth Thomma killed 29 people and wounded 57 during a 19-hour rampage last week after he shot his commanding officer and relative in a business dispute. The 32-year-old soldier was then shot dead.

The incident cast a spotlight on the questionable involvement of soldiers in the army's commercial activities, in a country that has just emerged from direct military rule.

Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong has vowed a major cleanup of the army's business activities, which generate an annual income of nearly one billion baht (S$44.5 million). They include golf courses, boxing arenas, horse racecourses, sports clubs, hotels and petrol stations.

"From now on the army will hand over various projects to the Treasury Department to consider how to proceed, based on its laws and regulations," said General Teerawat Boonyawat, Chief of Staff of the army.

The transfer means the businesses' revenues will go directly to the state. Some of the earnings will go towards the welfare of army personnel.

"I cannot yet say how much profit the army businesses generate because we have to work on it," said Prasong Poontaneat, Permanent Secretary of the Finance Ministry.

"We will bring on board professionals to make these businesses beneficial to soldiers' welfare and improve transparency," he said.

REUTERS