Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thai Anti-Government Protestors Vow to Fight till the End

November 29th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Thai_Political_Turmoil__web_.JPGThe Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat says he will take action to end anti-government protests in Bangkok’s two main airports.

Emergency rule has been declared around the two airports.

Thousands of passengers have been left stranded by the protest action, just the latest stand-off in a long-running political struggle gripping Thailand.

Despite the damage being done to Thailand’s economy, the People’s Alliance for Democracy is insisting it has the country’s interests at heart.

King Kong Janoi filed this report from Bangkok.

With their holidays ruined and business plans postponed, exhausted and concerned passengers wait for their flights at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport.

Some sleep on the floor in front of check-in counters whilst others complain to air lines, demanding answers to impossible questions.

With no end to the stand-off in sight those still waiting were eventually transferred to hotels.

A taxi driver who didn’t want to be name says the protests have lost him many paying passengers.

“Because of the political problems there are only a few foreigners now in Thailand. The Thai economy is not good so there are no local tourists either. Being a taxi driver is hard now. Some days I only earn around 3 US dollars.”

Suvarnabhumi is one of Asia’s busiest airports. It handles more than one hundred thousand passengers and 400 flights a day.

Airlines are suffering enormous financial damage due to cancelled flights. Thai Airways International estimates its daily losses will top 15 million US dollars.

But for supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy there was elation at the successful closing of the airport.

PAD member Art Dejavu manages security and says the occupation will force the resolution of Thailand’s political crisis.

“They might order to kill us, whatever, but if thousand of us die and the system changes that will be cool. I am sure that our people, most of us are just sitting and waiting for them kill us. We’ll wait for that because if we can’t win, we better died.”

Dejavu is demanding Primer Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s resignation:

“We try to fight against the corrupt government,” he says.

But Prime Minister Somchai is refusing to leave and points out that his administration was democratically elected by the majority of Thai people.

And the pressure is mounting. National army Chief Anupong Paojinda has requested the parliament be dissolved.

A Thai court, meanwhile, has ordered the protesters to leave the airports.

But fellow PAD demonstrator Piyachart Dangpuangpaiboon says the stand-off will only end when the government addresses the real problems.

“Our five leaders don’t want to be prime minister or have any position in politics. What they are fighting for, what we say is new politics; that people have an equal chance for knowledge and not only rich people have a chance in their lifetimes. Everybody has to be equal, everybody should be equal.”

As tensions increase, so too does the possibility of bloodshed.

There have already been explosives near government house and four other locations where PAD supporters have gathered.

Dejavu says they will fight till the end.

“You can’t imagine what its like to have a bomb every day in Bangkok, people get shot every day in Bangkok. But this time when we went to the airport it was a shock to the system so they have to do something. I don’t know what’s going to happen, maybe most of us will die, whatever, but PAD is not scared of this anymore. We’ve been attacked to many times.”

The stand-off has deeply divided Thailand. Opinion polls suggest the majority of Thais to not support the PAD’s protests.

Siriporn Muangsrinon, a Bangkok lawyer, expresses a widely held view.

“I am very bored with them; they destroy the country, that is a very bad situation in Thailand. They destroy economy of Thailand and image of Thai people.”

Despite not having the support of the majority, PAD has some powerful backers behind the scenes.

It was created by Sondhi Limthongkul a Thai media mogul who runs a daily newspaper and satellite Television station.

Economists are warning that if the PAD’s campaign continues it will do lasting damage to foreign investor confidence in Thailand.

Khulkingkan Aim from the Thai Lawyers council says the protesters are destroying the country.

“The tourists will not come to Thailand because they feel unsafe. And they force investors not come to invest in Thailand. It makes employees lose their job. I think the protesters must stop everything and have a new idea to grow the economy.”

Thai Hill Tribe Child Gain Rare Access to Higher Education

November 22nd, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Thailand_Eco_School__web_.JPGThere are more than two million hill tribe people are living in Thailand without official identity cards, according to a recent UNESCO report.

Some are Burmese who have fled across border others have lived for generations in Thailand but don’t have official documents.

It means that their children can’t access public education.

Hill tribe children without ID cards are 70 percent less likely to go to primary school that other Thai children.

But King Kong Janoi visits The Community Leaning Center (CLC) in Mae Hong Son that’s trying to solve this problem.

Children laugh as they try to learn English.

Most of them were born in Thailand but don’t have ID cards so they can’t go to state schools.

Amongst them is 18 year old Saw Pow Kwar from the Karen tribe
“After I finished the middle school, I thought my learning age was over but when I heard that I can continue my study here. I am really happy.”

Children like Saw who don’t have Thai ID cards are 98 percent less likely than other Thai children to go university.

Kyaw Hla Sein the founder of the Community Leaning Center wants to provide these children with an alternative.

“When first I started teaching the children are only allowed to study in middle school not high school and further education and to set up this school I thought that I will let them learn English language here, then I will invite the community development experts to come and give them training so they know how to run a project directly of benefit to needy people in communities.”

20 years ago Kyaw Hla Sein fled from Burma after he was forced to work as a porter for the Burmese military.

“The Burmese soldier caught me, arrested me and forced me to be porter for seven months. During the seven months, the soldiers forced every porter to carry rice and ammunitions. I saw two over fifty years’ old men who couldn’t go just left by the soldiers in the middle of the jungle. I hoped that they would be able to make it home but seven months later I came back to that area and I saw only their skeletons remained.”

He says he saw some horrible things during that time.

“On the way I saw young men between 20 to 25 trying to run away and the Burmese soldier shot them death. I also saw other porters who have difficulty carrying things when they have trouble, the Burmese soldier cut the bamboo and hit them like a dog.”

When he arrived in Thailand as a refugee he sold cigarettes for a living.

“For my daily survival I have to go so many village and town to work and earn by living. I saw many people who came from Burma and I saw their children as well. But the parents do not have a citizenship so that they can’t work. Even for their daily survival, it is very hard. I saw that the children wanted to learn and get an education and I decide that one day if I have the money I will set up a school for these children.”

He got a job with the UNHCR and used his international standard wages to build the Community Leaning Center in Mae Hong Son.

There are now 32 students at his school.

They learn English, Thai and computer skills- so they will be able to find work.

But it’s not just about making money. Kyaw shows a group of students how to make mud bricks in the environmental awareness class.

“We teach them making mud brick to build mud brick not using cement. It is very good for poor people; it is a way out for poor people not to get touch not to effect forest.”

This area borders Burma where environmental groups say there is unsustainable logging taking place.

Rosy one of teachers at the school says they want to be an example for the wider community.

“For the people in the village come and look and copy these good ideas. Like three months ago, the head of Doi San village came to learn about how to use mud bricks so they don’t have to cut down the forest.”

Kyaw Hla Sein also teaches his students about organic farming.

“Organic farming is very important because now people added to chemical fertilizer and pesticides. It is not good for long run especially if you eat these vegetable you will get infect.”

The school has been officially recognized by the local governor.

Now students can use their graduation certificate to enter any university in Thailand.

Emmet Kearney the English teachers says students here are very keen to learn.

“They know if they work hard they can do something more importance, open up opportunity. So it is really nice to teach students that want to learn and have a chance to change their life with English.”

Saw Maung Maung the director of the Ethnic Migrant Family Society says children who are born in Thailand must be given education rights.

“We are left from Burma more than 25 years ago, some are older. We don’t have any opportunity because we recognize as stateless people but our children who were born here should not face like that, right now these children have many difficulty for their future progressing.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thailand No Longer the Land of Smiles

December 13th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Thai Tourism (web)_1.JPGThailand tourism slogan is the “Land of Smiles”.

But anti-government protests lead by the People’s Alliance for Democracy or PAD have hit the travel industry hard.

The government said the protestor’s closure of the two major airport for eight days have cost over five billon US dollars.

King Kong Janoi reports of the lasting damage the political stand-off is having on the Thai tourism industry.

For the People’s Alliance for Democracy the airport closure was a victory.

“What we are fighting for is what we say is new politic that people have equal chance to get knowledge and not only rich people have a chance in their life.”

But for the three hundred thousand foreign tourists caught up in their political protest it was the holiday from hell.

“Now there is a few flight and very very expensive and only business class left.”

“It is going to cost us financial problems.”

“I’ve been absent more than nine days in that have been great massive problem there that I am really worry about.”

The Thai government desperately tried to save their tourist industry by providing free health care to the stranded visitors.

In a corner of the airport nurse Araya Netrakom hands out medicine to a man suffering from a headache.

“We come to support to take care of their health. We give something they need like a drink, food something. We try to support all of the tourists who have problem here. We want to make them happy after they’re leaving Thailand. I hope they still want to come back to Thailand.”

But it’s not going to be as easy as that. Richie Lim from Malaysia says he will not return soon.

“People start look at other country like Singapore so far most are politically stable and safe. So it is not good for Thailand and Thailand have to build back that image and stablize the politics.”

But political stability is a long way off. The country is hopelessly divided.

The PAD has vowed to return to the streets if the next government is too close to former Prime Minister Thaksin.

PAD member Art Dejavu says he will fight until death.

“They might order to kill us whatever but if thousand of us died the system will change that is gonna to be cool. I am sure that our people most of us just sit and just waiting for they kill us. We wait for that because if can’t win, we better died.”

For the Thai tourism industry it’s an ongoing nightmare. Due to the airport closure only half the normal amount of tourists are expected to come next year.

It’s already having an impact.

I am here at the popular night market in Bangkok. Usually it’s a very busy place filed with tourists buying traditional Thai products.

But today as you can hear it’s very quite. Shop owners are stilling waiting in empty shops.

One of them is Nyien Chan who sells handicrafts.

“I am not selling anything at the moment because there are no tourists due to the tourist situation. I am going to close my shop next month. Some of my friend’s shops have already closed. We can’t offer the wages of the staff and the building rent.”

Other people are more hopeful. Surasak Phomafuang is a travel agent in Central Bangkok.

“We will be success again because Thailand is very popular destination for tourists. I think we will be a success again in near future.”

But Louis Lozada from Australia says the airport closure is going to hang over Thailand’s tourism industry for a long time.

“In the future, I think it take quite a bit of time before come back because it has been such as experience of desperation and worry. So we will not be coming back in a hurry.”