Dumping more taxpayer money for the benefit of royalists

22 05 2012

It is remarkable how the Yingluck Shinawatra government has appeared not so much as a clone of Thaksin Shinawatra and the Thai Rak Thai government but a clone of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Many of the things that Abhisit did in very clumsy and elite lazy ways, Yingluck is doing “better.” So lese majeste is untouchable, red shirts languish in jail, Yingluck sucks up to Prem Tinsulanonda, and now, she throws taxpayers money at a project that subsidizes the royalist Sino-Thai business elite.

At The Irrawaddy it is reported that the Yingluck government has approved “203 projects that will cost more than 30 billion baht (US $1 billion) to support a deep-sea port and an industrial zone in Burma’s southern town of Dawei…”. The report states:

According to its Government Public Relations Department, Thailand is taking part in the development of the Dawei deep-sea port and industrial estate in Burma, a project that will help spur the Burmese economy while upgrading the western part of Thailand into a new trade hub.

Thailand urged Burma to support the plan despite the Burmese government going cold on the project. The project is promoted by the Italian-Thai Development PLC, said to be “the biggest construction company in Thailand.”

The plan has seen “local residents … complain … about unfair treatment over land confiscation and forced relocation. They worry that the development projects will cost them their land and livelihoods.” Around “30,000 people may have to be relocated by the end of 2013 to make way for the project, which is expected to be completed by 2015.”

Our earlier posts on the project were here, here and here.

What will be the next Yingluck royalist bailout?

Burma power plant canceled

10 01 2012

Regular readers will know that PPT has had several posts (start here for these) on the well-connected Italian-Thai Development company’s huge investment in Tavoy/Dawei in Burma that was a part of a development zone that included a strategy for shifting Thailand’s polluting industries to the west.

The Irrawaddy now reports that one critical element of the development – a coal-fired power station – has been canceled by the Burmese government. The story is well worth reading.

On elections and buildings vs. people

23 05 2010

Andrew Marshall, in an article in The Irrawaddy (21 May 2010) comments on the post-crackdown situation. He observes: “The Red … [Shirts] will return to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, to Buriram and Mukdahan, to Nong Khai and Nan, bringing home first-hand accounts of the bloody battle of Bangkok. Towns and villages across the north and northeast will be further radicalized. Until talks between the Reds and the government collapsed last week, a November election had seemed possible. But it is hard to imagine an election ever being held in such a poisonous political atmosphere.”

PPT thinks he’s right. The point about elections is one we made some time ago. Part of the reason for the government opposing red shirt demands was because Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his advisors believed they’d probably lose any election that would have followed a House dissolution. But as we pointed out, PPT believed that Abhisit was opposed to any election, earlier or later, until he knew he and his backers could engineer a win. Now he has a “mandate” to postpone an election because his candidates are unlikely to be able to campaign in red shirt areas. He has often said that this ability to campaign is a required condition for any election.

Indeed, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij has been quoted as having “acknowledged the difficulty of putting the Thai political scene back on an even course. He said in principle the government could agree to early elections in November as long as calm was restored throughout the country…”. He added: “We need to make sure that emotions have cooled to the extent that candidates from all parties can feel safe in campaigning anywhere in the country.” To make the message clear, he stated: “And if we can do that in November, we will do it in November. If it takes a little bit longer than that, we will give it the necessary time that is required…”. In fact, the only reason for going to an election will be that the government and its supporters are sure they can win.

Marshall is also right to point to anger. Anger doesn’t always lead to radical action – the Burmese people have been angry for a considerable time – but will underpin political decision-making and action for many years to come.

PPT has experienced some moments of extreme concern as well. There’s plenty to be angry and concerned about. The partisanship of the mass media and the campaigns against any media seen to be in any way critical of the Thai government’s reprehensible actions in recent days is breathtaking. The current anti-BBC and anti-CNN campaigns stage-managed and promoted by the government are abominations. By the way, we say the government is managing these things because PPT received emails from Democrat Party insiders circulating the information that has now become part of the “campaigns.” We are angry at the way the government is seemingly able to whitewash its draconian track record, its murder of citizens and its on-going repression.

This government is so royalist and so repressive that it even blocks a tiny blog like PPT, usually read only by a few thousand in Thailand. If the government is so right and so good, why does it need to block every single critical observer? Why is it fostering attacks on the international media that are highly personalized? We know the answers.

But here’s something more to be angry about. We think the Butcher of Bangkok has prevented information being available about injuries and deaths during the crackdown. Sooner or later there will be a debate about this, probably in cyberspace. There, the government’s supporters, including the moles the army has working the blogs, will argue that there were cameras everywhere, so nothing could be hidden. When this argument begins, recall that most foreign journalists were behind the troops (including CNN). Few were “embedded” with the red shirts. Those that were on the red shirt side of the event each report from several to many deaths. One reader we have who was there, reports that the troops looked like they were on a hunting trip. The film of soldiers firing deliberately and repeatedly at targeted protesters is suggestive of a higher casualty figure than we have seen – on Friday, the Erawan Emergency Center is reporting a total of 53 people had died and 413 were wounded since 14 May.

It is infuriating to read accounts by many, many journalists that focus on the damage to buildings – see the AP report in The Irrawaddy, where the whole report by Vijay Joshi is about the damage to buildings. Not a serious word about deaths or injuries. How crazy is that? Crazy is probably the wrong term….

With 4 updates: State of emergency declared

7 04 2010

The Nation reports that “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded the enforcement of Internal Security Act (ISA) had failed to deter the protests by the red shirts.” He therefore “deemed it necessary to invoke the emergency decree over Bangkok” and surrounding provinces. Abhisit said: “”We want to facilitate other actions to restore peace and order. The actions will be in accordance with the law and international standard…”. He promised the enforcement of laws, “including the legal proceedings against red shirts leaders.”

This followed a day of actions from both the red shirts and the government. The government announced plans to close the red shirt television station and, led by firebrand Arisman Pongruangrong, more than 1,000 red shirts entered parliament’s compound after two fire bombs were allegedly aimed at protesters. Arisman reportedly entered the parliament building with 20 supporters. They stayed only a short time.

Abhisit, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey, and acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn climbed over the ladder into Vimarn Mek palace, boarded a helicopter and went to “the government’s commanding center inside the 11 th Infantry Regiment.” Abhisit reportedly left “his cabinet and other MPs inside the Parliament.”

Meanwhile, “Deputy House Speaker Apiwan Ariyachai took the stage of the red shirts and told the cheering protesters that a senior army officer told him by telephone several times that the armed forces would withdraw supports for Abhisit and his government.” This raises a very interesting question as Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has refused to use troops against protesters while they remain peaceful. Recall that open rebellion by this same army leader brought down the government of Somchai Wongsawat when he refused to move against PAD protesters occupying the airport in late 2008.

Update 1: The “fire bombs” noted above may have been CS gas canisters. BusinessWeek has an update. The government states that it will take legal action against the red shirts who entered the parliament compound. Metropolitan Police chief Santhan Chayanont said “a pistol and an M16 rifle seized by the red shirts at the parliament were in the possession of Pvt Chalothorn Kimso, a military policeman, who was the driver of a car leading Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban’s motorcade. He said Pvt Chalothorn, was questioned about it and said he was shocked seeing the red-shirts storming into parliament. He took the weapons out of the car to find a place to store them. But, during the melee, the weapons were snatched from his hand. Pvt Chalothorn had filed a complaint with Dusit police, Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said.”

Pol Lt-Gen Santhan also “said he was informed by Pol Maj-Gen Phakapong Pongpetra, a crowd control commander, that the [gas] canisters were snatched from their bindings on the chests of police on guard duty by the red-shirts rushing into the parliament compound. The canisters were then thrown into the crowd of protesters.  This led to wrongful claims the government forces had tried to bomb the protesters.  Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said what happened would be further investigated. However, police had been told not to use tear gas against the protesters unless they were first given permission. This permission could be given only by the government’s Centre for Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO).” There’s confusion on this as the red shirts talk of “two tear gas shells found at the Ratchaprasong rally site.”

Meanwhile, Abhisit mentioned that the state of emergency was a direct result of the “red shirts of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) broke into the parliamentary compound, forcing cabinet members, including himself, and MPs attending a House meeting to flee for safety.”

Photos at the Bangkok Post show red shirts climbing the gate into what appears to be the parliament compound and opening it for their comrades. There seem no security forces involved until later photos. None of the photos have labels. They also show the grabbing of the M16. More photos here of Suthep and an armed guard – some suggest a Democrat Party MP – in parliament.

Update 2: For background on the decree on state of emergency, see Bangkok Pundit’s important post. The Irrawaddy notes that “[m]any Thai columnists and editorials on Wednesday questioned whether Abhisit was losing the weeks-old confrontation with the protesters and the crucial backing of the military and police. At least four former prime ministers planned to step into the fray in an attempt to negotiate an end to the crisis, state media reports said.” Well-known royalist and former head of the National Security Council Prasong Soonsiri offered advice to Abhisit: “If I were the prime minister, I would have got rid of those who would not carry out my orders…”. . He said “there was strong support for the Red Shirts within the civil service and law enforcement agencies.”

Update 3: The Nation reports a series of bombings, including on red shirts. The headliner is another claimed grenade attack on General Anupong’s office last Tuesday. Police have tried to link police “suspended Army specialist Maj-General Khattiya Sawas-diphol for questioning, because he was seen near the Democrat Party compound before the grenade attacks.”

Update 4: More bombings reported by The Nation. One was at the headquarters of the New Politics Party, apparently using an M203 grenade launcher attached to an M16 rifle – that’s suggesting considerably more sophistication than in other attacks and probably military links. The other at the TPI building. TPI is a company linked to – depending which bit of  it you look at – the Bangkok Bank and/or Prachai Leophairatana.

Getting rid of Burmese workers

20 02 2010

As PPT has posted previously, the Abhisit Vejjajiva coalition government has developed an odious track record on refugees and other peoples of concern who cross borders seeking sanctuary.

PPT had thought that the millions of workers who do all the hard and dangerous work in Thailand, exploited by often horrendous conditions, poor pay and sometimes slavery-like circumstances, would have been in a different category for the government. After all, Thai employers, happy to exploit these migrants, regularly make calls for more foreign workers and cheap migrant labor keeps Thai and foreign enterprises profitable in industrial sectors that would have died a “natural” death years ago.

Not so it seems. Various reports indicate that the Democrat Party-led government is going to expel more than 1 million migrant workers, most of them to Burma.

The Irrawaddy (18 February 2010) reports that “Thai authorities say that despite protests by human rights groups they are proceeding with plans to deport up to 1.4 million migrants who fail to complete national verification procedures by the end of February.”

It is reported that Deputy Prime Minister Major-General Sanan Kajornprasart, in his capacity as chairman of the alien workers management committee, had appointed officials to arrest and deport migrant workers who failed to complete national verification formalities by the end of February.” This is a direct outcome of a cabinet resolution that allowed extension of work permits only if migrants “completed the national verification formalities, which involve processing by their home countries.

As a footnote, it is Sanan who has been heading up the repatriation of hundreds of allegedly Cambodian beggars, many of them severely disabled, back across the border, apparently in breach of Thailand’s own laws.

That’s not as easy as it might initially sound, especially for those from Burma. It is, however, in line with two things. First, the Abhisit alleged attention to “rule of law, and second, the military’s long-held suspicion of migrant workers as a security threat. The government claims it wants workers “above ground.” As PPT has previously said, Abhisit’s rule of law is, in fact, using the law for government and political advantage.

The UN expert on the human rights of migrants, Jorge A Bustamante, said: “This scheme does not offer options for protecting the human rights of migrants who have not availed themselves, or will not avail themselves, of this process.” The UN official said he was disappointed that the Thai government had not responded to his appeals for ‘restraint.” He warned that “the threats of mass expulsion will result in unprecedented human suffering and will definitely breach fundamental human rights obligations.”

Andy Hall, the director of the Migrant Justice Program, claimed that deportation was “not realistic the economy needs the workers.” (He also has an article on this topic in the same issue of The Irrawaddy).

The economy needs them. The problem – if the government ever recognizes it – is that it risks a huge rise in illegal and unregistered underground workers, strengthening the hand of the police, military and traffickers (of course, in Thailand, these are not mutually exclusive categories. The government’s “rule of law” will actually create more crime and less attention to law as corruption increases even further in cross-border smuggling of workers.

We do not lie. Of course they do.

11 02 2010

The Irrawaddy (10 February 2010) reports on the ongoing case of the expected forced repatriation of Karen refugees at Tha Song Yang camp in the country’s north.

The report states that, at a forum involving various Thai government ministries and agencies, along with representatives of the military and international organizations, a Thai Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesperson said that [the Karen ] …have expressed a willingness to return to Burma.” MOFA also claimed “that the area from which the refugees fled in June 2006 is clear of landmines, according to information received from the Burmese side of the border.” And, MOFA also claims that “there was no indication that the fighting between the junta-aligned Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) was going to resume anytime soon.”

MOFA’s statements were supported by a military representative who opined: “We speak the truth about recent events. We would never force people to go back.” He added: “although I wish I could give you more information about these issues, I have been busy with other matters recently.”

Of course the army doesn’t engage in forcible repatriation or other reprehensible behaviors! Those 150 Hmong with visas for third countries that they’d been waiting for months and years really did want to go back to Laos. And all those Rohinga boat people really wanted to be set adrift at sea last year.

Just a few days ago PPT heard a Democrat Party member claiming that the whole issue of sending back asylum seekers was against government policy and a plot by Thaksin people in the army to destabilize the government. Maybe it’s also a plot by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to destabilize his own government.

Our cynicism is warranted when Guiseppe de Vicentis, the deputy regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says “there is ample evidence that there are landmines on the Burmese side.” He says the situation on the Burma side is not safe. The Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) “said that at least nine people have been injured or killed by landmines in the region since the refugees fled in June 2009.”

The TBBC also confirmed that the military lied when it claimed that international representatives participated in a process that saw three Karen families repatriated last week. TBBC said international agencies “were prevented from accessing the Karen refugee camps prior to the repatriation…”.

PPT knows the UNHCR and the TBBC has more credibility on these issues that Thai bureaucrats and the military.

Coming out of self-imposed hibernation and seemingly being ignorant of Burma’s political circumstances, National Human Rights Commission chair Amara Ponsapich suggested that international mine-clearance experts be given access to the affected region inside Burma, to determine whether it was clear of mines or not. She asked if the Thai authorities would facilitate this operation as best they could from their side of the border.

Thailand’s National Security Council told the forum that Thai policy is first to ensure harmony and cooperation with its neighbors.” That seems far more accurate an assessment. Forget human rights and the lives of refugees as the Democrat Party-led government follows the well-worn Thai path to the natural resources and assumed wealth of Burma.

Migrants and human rights: An odious reputation

3 02 2010

PPT recently and briefly mentioned the case of 9 illegal migrants who appear to have been murdered by police near Mae Sot in the country’s north. For more details on this seemingly grisly case, see The Irrawaddy (2 February 2010 ).

The report includes these details that suggest that the life of a migrant is now worth $30.: “All nine victims were shot with a 22-caliber gun. Their bodies were found in two locations in northern Tak Province. The migrants had reportedly been arrested in the Phop Phra area and had tried to bribe the police for permission to stay in Thailand, The Bangkok Post reported, quoting one local source. The gunmen demanded 1,000 baht (US $33) from each of the group, but killed nine of the migrants when they had difficulty raising the money, one local source told The Irrawaddy.

The same newspaper includes details on the likely forced repatriation of Karen to Burma and the implications for these people.

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government, backed as it is by the military, has developed an odious reputation for its dealings with migrants and refugees.

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