Two border tales

8 12 2011

Readers may be interested on two reports related to Thailand’s borders:

1) The Irrawaddy has a report on the Thai industrial and port development project at Tavoy/Dawei in Burma. PPT has mentioned this Italian-Thai corporation-led development previously, here, here, here and here.

This report is of a visit to the area by a “fact-finding mission” from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery. Beerawat Dheeraprasart, FER’s chairman said “he is worried about the environmental impact of building the massive seaport.”

FER reported “that the Thai Investment Board has offered a substantial sum of money to build the Tavoy Deep Seaport and Industrial Zone.” FER worried about issues of local participation and environmental impact and compared it to the troubled Map Ta Phut Industrial Zone in Rayong, although the Burma project is said to be “eight times bigger than …[Map Ta Phut].”

FER sees the investment in Tavoy as an effort by the Thai investors as an attempt to flee the troubled Map Ta Phut project.

2) The other report is on the violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier in 2011 by the International Crisis Group. The report, which also reflects on ASEAN’s role, is titled Waging Peace: ASEAN and the Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict (the link is to the Executive Summary, from where the PDF of the report can be downloaded).

The ICG argues that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) used the issue of Cambodia’s attempt to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site “to whip up nationalist sentiments against the subsequent Thaksin [Shinawatra]-back[ed] government and Cambodia in 2008, halting border demarcation and setting off the deadly bilateral confrontation.”

The role of ASEAN is said to break “new ground by deciding to dispatch observers to monitor a conflict between member states.” Well, kind of, for the deployment of border observers has yet to take place, mainly because Thailand’s Army is obdurate, a point noted in the report.

Updated: Elections, observers and boycotts

25 03 2011

In MCOT News, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is mentioned twice on rejecting foreign scrutiny.

First, reflecting the fact the the military already presented the government with a fait accompli, Suthep has been forced to agree that “said Indonesia, in its capacity as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or any other country, should not meddle in the border committee meeting.” The military had refused to accept this, so the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is unable to move on any resolution to the disputes on the Cambodian border.

Second, Suthep has also disagreed with the idea that Thailand “seek international observers to monitor the upcoming general election…”. That was his response to a report that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), “planned to invite election observers from international organisations” to observe the elections.

Suthep made this a nationalist issue, wondering “why the UDD does not respect Thailand’s national sovereignty but respects foreigners by inviting them to be involved in the country’s internal affairs.” Suthep apparently wants nothing to do with foreigners, saying the whole idea was “inappropriate.”

It is curious that the current government and its backers are so spooked by suggestions of international observation.

The yellow shirts are also opposed to any third party involvement with the border dispute with Cambodia. As for international observers for the elections, if Sondhi Limthongkul has his way, the idea would be redundant. Sondhi has called on the PAD-born New Politics Party to boycott any elections and to campaign for a no vote when people cast their ballots. Readers will recall that PAD successfully called on opposition parties to boycott the April 2006 elections and for voters to cast a no vote (effectively a vote against the Thai Rak Thai Party). This was a crucial element moving the country towards the 2006 coup and beginning a a process of judicialization that began with the king’s call for the judiciary to sort out the disputes that followed the boycotted elections.

While the Wikipedia article just noted refers to this political intervention by the king as “an unusual but socially unifying step in declaring the landslide elections undemocratic, the election was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court…”, this is anything but true. The action set in train a series of events and decisions that have seen Thailand embroiled in 7 years of political disputation and crisis. Sondhi’s call for a boycott by the NPP is already causing dispute, but this time within the yellow shirts.

The Nation refers to a “split within the leadership yellow shirts’ leadership.” The NPP’s leader Somsak Kosaisuk said “the party’s executives and branch heads had resolved at their meeting on Tuesday to field candidates in the election.”

Somsak said NPP “is required to abide by the Political Party Act and the party’s own regulations.” Now PPT is not sure why Somsak and his yellow shirts have suddenly become believers in election laws, although Somsak appeared willing to consider Sondhi’s call, presumably if it gains any political traction.

Somsak does, however, make a point that sits oddly with the opposition to “foreign interference” when he notes that the “New Politics Party was set up in accordance with a resolution by PAD members from all over the country, as well as some 6,000 PAD members in the United States – not just from the five PAD leaders…”. Like the current government, it seems there are “tame” foreigners (we assume some of these PAD members are holding the documents of foreign countries) who are politically useful.

More significantly, Somsak seems to view the NPP as part of a grassroots movement while Sondhi sees it as a tool for himself and Chamlong Srimuang and the murky backers of the PAD. These latter leaders are also busily denigrating the very idea of elections and elected politicians. Sondhi said: “If the election is allowed to go ahead, we will see a return of beasts from hell…”.

It seems to PPT that Sondhi is worried that pro-Thaksin parties will do better than the current regime thinks they will. That said, Sondhi and others have also been attacking Abhisit also.

Sondhi claims that “the PAD leaders have resolved that we will campaign for people all over the country to not vote…”. Sondhi has never really been committed to NPP; that’s why it is led by Somsak, who was one of the early leaders of PAD, but never a major public figure. PPT expects taht Sondhi and his cronies will get their way. Questions remain: will a rightist boycott have any public support, and are there are darker forces behind this move.

Update: The Jakarta Globe has an interesting take on the border observers issue.

Predictable over-reactions, the threat to ASEAN and war

7 11 2009

The Bangkok Post (7 November 2009) has two stories worth considering together on the current Thailand-Cambodia dispute.

The first (“Recalling ambassador seen as ‘over-reaction’ in dispute”) sets out the reactions from a series of diplomats and concerns that Thailand, as the chair of ASEAN is sparring with another member state, threatening ASEAN, the Mekong Summit and the united voice of Southeast Asian countries in dealing with big powers. Professor Charnvit Kasetsiri, who has long tried to be a moderate and reasonable voice on Thailand’s relations with its neighbor is also cited. Of course, the cited former Thai ambassador disagrees.

Cited in the second story (“Borwornsak backs PM’s retaliation”) is  law academic Bowornsak Uwanno, who is also the head of the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (the main royalist institution that seeks to deny Thailand’s democratic history) . Regular readers will know that PPT has been critical of a couple of academics who seem to fit a long “tradition” of being for hire by governments of various persuasions. Bowornsak seems to fit the category, having jumped from a senior position in the Thaksin government to the military’s side and as a royalist supporter of the military-palace government led by the Democrat Party.

The all too predictable Bowornsak supports the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s “retaliation.” However, he also warns that “could be the starting point of a fall” of ASEAN. That starting point probably had more to do with the legacy of the ASEAN old guard who brought in Burma, but the point remains that the coincidence of this current dispute between the chair country and another member is indeed potentially disintegrating.

In The Nation, ASEAN boss and Democrat Party member Surin Pitsuwan also expresses “concern over the escalation of tensions between Cambodia and Thailand, appealing to both countries to exercise maximum restraint,” and pointing to the dispute’s potential for “undermin[ing] the credibility of Asean…”.

In the Bangkok Post, and continuing the predictable line, a Thai military leader predicts “But if the war really breaks out, Thailand will be the winner.” What can PPT say that isn’t predictable?

Update: Further on war, under the somewhat misleading headline “Situation in Si Sa Ket normal” (7 November), it is reported that “villagers in Bhumisalon border village nearby the Preah Vihear ancient temple of Cambodia had built 15 bunkers at the village school. The bunkers are for safety of the school’s teachers and students in case the war between the two countries takes place.”

ASEAN human rights and Thailand

30 10 2009

PPT recommends Awzar Thi’s column “Beware of ASEAN rights diplomacy” at his Rule of Lords page at While we posted on some of these issues earlier, we find Awzar’s analysis most enlightening and comprehensive.

We notice his comment:  “Rights diplomats fear to speak out because they might step on officials’ toes or risk their status with fellow diplomats. They sacrifice their ability to communicate on critically important issues on the streets in order to keep their cherished places at the table. This is why, for instance, some groups have failed to speak out against the use of the lèse majesté law to silence and imprison people in Thailand, when in principle they ought to have not even hesitated.”

Sounds like Amnesty International to us. They still refuse to comment on lese majeste and refuse to answer polite emails. They have never responded to PPT.

Normal operating procedures

2 10 2009

Also available as งัดกฎหมายออกมาบีบบังคับประชาชน จนเคยตัว

PPT has posted previously about the normalization of repression in Thailand. This process continues unabated with little opposition.

The Bangkok Post (2 October 2009: “Govt to use security act during summit”) reports that the “government will again use the Internal Security Act during the 15th Asean Summit to be held in Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces from Oct 23 to 25…”. This is now standard operating procedure for the Democrat Party-led coalition government. In The Nation’s report, however, it is stated that “Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda said the ISA will be enforced between October 12 and 27 in nine sub-districts of Phetchaburi’s Cha-am district and four sub-districts of Prachuab Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district.” He also states that he expects no trouble.

This is an astounding demonstration that the use of this repressive law is now standard procedure. It is remarkable that it now goes unquestioned.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva claims this use is part of the rule of law. But this is using a draconian law, drafted and passed by a military-backed government, for political gain by a party with hollow claims to be interested in both human rights and the rule of law. For a statement on the ISA’s negative impact on human rights, see here.

The signal is clear when Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon is put in charge of security and using the ISA, which was hurriedly put in place when the military-appointed government in late 2007. Soldiers will join police in ensuring the safety of Asean leaders during the meetings.

Remarkably – well, it isn’t really, because this is also becoming standard procedure – it is reported that the “security act might also be invoked in the capital if red-shirt protesters rally when the summit takes place…”.

The ISA has become a law that the government can now use to repress legitimate political protests and rallies that it doesn’t like. The government argues that it doesn’t stop rallies, but the imposition of the ISA amounts to repression, threat and restrict. The use of the ISA is legal but it is still repression. It is rule by law, not rule of law and it is not part of any democratic processes.

Update: Reuters report here.

No protests allowed when ASEAN discusses human rights in Phuket

15 07 2009

The Nation’s print edition (15 July 2009) has a noteworthy set of stories on its front page of the National Affairs section.

One headline is “Human Rights High on Agenda at ASEAN Summit” and concerns the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phuket needing to agree the terms of reference for an ASEAN human rights body. Human rights has seldom been high on the ASEAN agenda and the human rights body has been heavily criticized. As the story explains, “the proposed Asean body has been widely criticised for being toothless in protecting rights in member countries.”

What is noteworthy and lamentable is that this story, which at least engages human rights, surrounds an insert box with this headline: “No Protests Allowed.”

In the online version, this story appears at the end of the abovementioned story. We quote it in full:

“The resort island of Phuket will be off-limits to all protests during the summit next week, when even the delegates and media representatives will be under restrictions.

People have a right to express opinions about Asean – but not in Phuket next week, the Foreign Ministry’s Director of Asean Affairs Department Vitavas Srivihok said.

The island will be under the Internal Security Act and the military, which is in charge of security, will deploy some 10,000 troops there. It will set up checkpoints throughout the island to prevent disruption of the meetings.

Delegates and journalists will not be allowed to move freely in restricted areas near the meeting venue.

All vehicles are required to register before entering the island and unregistered vehicles will not be allowed to cross Sarasin Bridge from the mainland, an official said.

The Internal Security Operational Command (Isoc) is in charge of vehicle control. Registration of vehicles is between 8am-6pm only, meaning vehicles arriving on the island after dark will be in trouble at security checkpoints.

Is it too obvious? ASEAN leaders will sit down to discuss human rights in a situation where the host government has restricted the freedom of assembly, movement and media and effectively put the military will be in charge.

Press Freedom Constrained Across ASEAN Nations

6 05 2009

A new article reports that press freedom in ASEAN is rapidly declining. Drawing on the 2009 Freedom House report, ABS-CBN News notes that seven ASEAN nations are “not free,” while six others, including Thailand, are “partly free.” Read the article here, 6 May 2009, “Press freedom suffers setback in ASEAN”

PPT also recommends the entire Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2009 Survey. Read about the survey and methodology here.

Concern regarding human rights in Thailand

16 04 2009

Further to the Human Rights Watch call for accountability, some disturbing reports from Thailand have emerged.

As Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva moved back to Government House (Bangkok Post, 16 April 2009: “PM tries to restore confidence”), he said that “the state of emergency in the capital is temporary and that constitutional rights would be returned fully to the Thai people when it was lifted.” He is quoted as saying that: “After the lifting of the state of emergency people will be free to express their opinions peacefully, but that must has to be done without any attempt to incite unrest,” Mr Abhisit said.

As HRW noted, the state of emergency permits the Democrat-led government with draconian powers. Abhisit refuses to say when the emergency will be lifted, raising concerns about what exactly is happening behind the scenes.

In a related report, the Bangkok Post (16 April 2009: “Detention extended, new arrest warrants out”) indicates how the emergency decree is being used, with the Criminal Court affirming the right of police to arrest and to continue to detain three UDD leaders. “The court confirmed on Thursday that the declaration of a state of emergency before the three men were arrested gave police the authority to detain them without a court warrant.”

Veera Musigapong, Natthawut Saikua and Weng Tojirakarn were taken away by Border Patrol Police Region 1 officers to Pathum Thani province, where they are being held for further investigation. They can be detained for seven more days.

The courts issued another 22 arrest warrants for red shirt protesters. These included 10 warrants for protesters accused of attacking Prime Minister Abhisit’s motorcade at the Interior Ministry compound and 12 warrants for people who attacked his car in Pattaya. Another 14 warrants were earlier issued for UDD organisers of the raid on the Royal Cliff Hotel in Pattaya during a regional ASEAN summit.

It is clear that the state of emergency is being used to track down and imprison red shirt leaders. It is not immediately evident why the government needs such laws in the cases cited, any of which could be dealt with in the normal legal process, thus raising suspicions about the government’s motives. And, as HRW pointed out, the lack of action against PAD extremists raises concerns regarding even-handedness. It also raises questions about the government’s commitment to the rule of law that it so often touts.

Meanwhile, two bodies have turned up floating in the river in Bangkok (Bangkok Post, 16 April 2009: “Police probe claim dead men were red-shirts”). Police are said to be “investigating claims that two men whose bodies were found gagged and bound in the Chao Phraya river were red-shirt protesters.”

The bodies of Chaiyaporn Kanthang, 29, and Nattapong Poongdee, 23, were found to have “suffered head injuries and apparently been hit with a hard object. They were gagged and their hands were tied behind their backs…”. The story continues by citing a police investigator: “The official investigation has not yet found their deaths are related to the political rally…. One of their friends told reporters that they went to join the red-shirt rally…”. He added that “the man had not repeated his claim to police.” However, the police say there “was no confirmation the pair were at the rally and that robbery was a more likely motive, as their motorcycle was missing.”

Presumably Bangkok’s robbers usually bind and gag their victims, kill them and throw them into the river.

Update: In addition, recent reports indicate that community radio stations in the North have been closed (Nation, 16 April 2009 : “Community radio stations ordered to close temporarily”).  It is particularly concerning that in this climate of repression — and murky, incomplete news — that any media sources are being closed down.

Blue shirts “protect the institution”

11 04 2009

Nirmal Ghosh has been reporting from the troubled ASEAN summit in Pattaya (“Flashpoint Pattaya”). These are interesting reports worthy of reading in full. This piece caught PPT’s eye:

“Red shirted pro-democracy [UDD] protestors  on Saturday returned in greater numbers to Pattaya, pushing their way to the summit venue for a second day by around 9.30am.

Earlier, enraged by attacks by blue-shirted pro-government thugs [PPT - it is not at all clear who these people are. There have been pictures of them in action with the police] the previous day, in which some red shirts were hit by stones, the red shirts had called up greater numbers and scores of taxis from Bangkok overnight.

In the early morning they began marching up the hill to the Royal Cliff Resort, venue of the summit, but came face to face with a few hundred of the pro-government militia, well organized with freshly printed dark blue T-shirts saying ‘Protect the Institution’ – institution being the a reference to the monarchy.

All the blue shirts were armed with sticks, clubs and iron rods.”

Other reports show the red shirts becoming armed also. The reference to “protecting the institution” is eerily reminiscent of right-wing groups claiming palace support who worked with the police and military during the bloody attack on Thammasat University on 6 October 1976.

Update: Bangkok Pundit has some reports from the Thai-language press showing the links between blue shirts and the Democrat Party-led government, together with a photograph of former Thaksin supporter Newin Chidchob dressed in blue directing forces in Pattaya.

ASEAN and human rights

28 02 2009

The Nation (1 March 2009: “ASEAN SUMMIT: ‘Uphold freedom of the press'”) carries a brief report on a statement by a small group of members of parliament in ASEAN on human rights.  Prachatai carries their declaration. The Nation report:

“A group of Asean parliamentarians yesterday formed a caucus on rights and free expression calling on Asean leaders to uphold press freedom. Members of parliament from Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand signed a declaration forming the caucus. They were Kraisak Choonhavan and Buranaj Smutharaks from Thailand, Yim Sovann from Cambodia, Djoko Susilo from Indonesia and Francis Pangilinan and Teodoro Casino from the Philippines.

“We believe that the dream of a true Asean community and the formation of an Asean Human Rights Body must recognise free expression, press freedom and people’s access to information as essential to human rights,” they said in the declaration.”We also urge our national and regional leaders to uphold the rights of the people of Asean, in particular their rights to inquire, express and participate on matters that affect their lives and societies.”

For the Thailand case, the signatories are both members of the Democrat Party, which PPT has shown to be engaging in an extensive campaign of censorship in the name of national security, reconciliation, and protection of the monarchy. Likewise, FACT has commented on increased censorhip of the internet. Buranaj earlier complained about foreign media reporting on Thailand (Nation, 10 January 2009: “Man of many talents”).

Given the Democrats past record, ASEAN’s blemished record on human rights (see Prachatai, 28 February 2009: “Behind the pomp, try to seek out Asean’s true nature”) and the not altogether clear record on freedom of expression of a number of the signatories, there is ample room for cynicism. At the same time, in amongst a lot of huffing and puffing by the ASEAN governments on human rights, while  activists were kept away from the ASEAN meeting (Bangkok Post, 28 February 2009: “Rights activists barred from Asean talks”), these parliamentarians deserve some credit. At least they have been prepared to make a public call for press freedom and freedom of expression.


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