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Boom Boom on the Border

Tim Newton

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Boom Boom on the Border | The Thaiger

On one side of the Thai/Malaysian border is Sungai Golok, on the Malaysian side it’s the town of Rantau Panjang. The two towns are separated by the Golok River and decades of furious fighting between Muslim separatists who want to reclaim some of the southern areas in Thailand under the Malaysian flag. The Thai Buddhists on the other side are happy for it to remain part of the Kingdom of Thailand. Enough of the politics. The real story in Sungai Golok is the thriving little border town that attracts Malaysian men nightly to enjoy the ‘pleasures of the flesh’, loud music, karaoke, copious booze and ‘the ladies’. All of which is frowned upon just south of the river in Malaysia.

Poised at the very south of Narithawat Province in Thailand, Sungai Golok is ground zero for border boozing and debauchery. With a population of around 38,000 it’s hardly a thriving metropolis but when the sun sets the men from south of the border flock across the river to enjoy entertainment unavailable to them in the strict Muslim province of Kelantan.

The death toll in the deep south is equivalent to the toll in the Gaza Strip

If it wasn’t for it’s strategic location on the main road heading south from Thailand you would never hear of Sungai Golok. But apart from its rising reputation as the southern red light district it’s also a strategic target for bombings and outrage from people south of the border who see the town as the epitome of everything wrong with ‘Thai and Western decadence’. The death toll in the deep south is equivalent to the toll in the Gaza Strip, the self-governing Palestinian territory that gets so many headlines around the world. But the violence in the Deep South is rarely reported in international media.

Violent attacks happen nearly every day in the southern provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Yala and Narithawat with little sign of any drop in attacks from the insurgents. Back in Sungai Golok it’s just part of the nightlife where the noise from the discos is occasionally interrupted by a bomb. Does it deter the men heading across the border for their nights of revelry or the Thai women working in the bars? Hell no. The nightclubs and bars are regular targets for the indiscriminate home-made pipe bombs and car bombs, almost daily, but it does little to dampen the enthusiasm for a good night. In fact the reputation of Sungai Golok as the ‘place to go’ for a good time continues to rise – which just puts it higher up the target list for the insurgents who want to make their point.

The troubles in the town do little to dampen the enthusiasm for the men that visit and most of them will head home after their night of fun to the conservative Malaysian state over the river unhurt. But for the girls that work in Sungai Golok it’s a constant threat to their lives. The stakes are high. The men are paying good money for the services provided in the town – the girls are eager to part the men from their money and are willing to take the risks of plying their trade in such a dangerous location.

With a single bridge across the Golok river you would think that police and army can control the flow of traffic across the river but many of the visitors slip across the small river by boat and cross the border undetected, usually without passports or any means of identification if the worst happens.

If you’re heading south from Thailand and wanting to cross the river border into Malaysia there’s only one official road, through Sungai Golok. So it seems the little towns future, and reputation, will continue to grow along with it the violence that see no signs of abating.

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 450 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now the General Manager and writer for The Thaiger. He's reported for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue.

Thailand

Thailand classified as a “not free” country in Freedom House report

Caitlin Ashworth

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Thailand classified as a “not free” country in Freedom House report | The Thaiger
October protest at the Asok-Sukhumvit intersection in Bangkok / Photo by Caitlin Ashworth

On a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being absolute freedom, Thailand scores at 30, a “not free” country, according to the nonprofit Freedom House. Each year, the organisation reviews the political rights and civil liberties of countries around the world. According to their recent assessment, Thailand has declined in terms of rights and liberties, dropping on the scale from “partly free” to “not free.”

The main reason for the drop on the freedom scale, the organisation says, is “due to the dissolution of a popular opposition party that performed well in the 2019 elections, and the military-dominated government’s crackdown on youth-led protests calling for democratic reforms.”

The Future Forward Party was dissolved in February 2020 after the court found that the founder, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, had made a large donation to the party that exceeded the legal limit. The party’s leaders were then banned from politics for the next decade.

Youth-led protests started in February, but the demonstrations were put on pause due to Covid-19 restrictions banning large public gatherings. Protesters gathered in July as restrictions lifted, but some leaders then faced charges for holding a public gathering, which was still banned under emergency orders.

In October, the prime minister imposed what Freedom House calls a “severe” State of Emergency order in Bangkok that banned gatherings of more than 5 people. Some protesters were arrested for violating the order nearly immediately after it was imposed.

With activists pushing for monarchy reform and an end to the military’s involvement in government, raising subjects considered taboo and unprecedented in Thai society, the Thai government has increased its use of the draconian lèse majesté law. Since November, dozens of activists have faced charges for insulting or defaming the Thai Monarchy.

Freedom House scores countries on topics like the electoral process, questioning if politicians and leaders were elected in free and fair elections, as well as freedom of expression and individual rights.

Thailand’s military seized power in 2014 in a bloodless coup. The 2017 constitution was drafted by a committee appointed by the military’s National Council for Peace and Order. In 2019, the country transitioned to what Freedom House calls a “military-dominated, semi-elected” government.

The 2019 elections were overseen by the Election Commission of Thailand, whose members were appointed by the military. All 250 senators were appointed by the military in 2019 to serve 5 year terms.

In 2020, the combination of democratic deterioration and frustrations over the role of the monarchy provoked the country’s largest anti-government demonstrations in a decade. In response to these youth-led protests, the regime resorted to familiar authoritarian tactics, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation, lèse majesté charges, and harassment of activists. Freedom of the press is constrained, due process is not guaranteed, and there is impunity for crimes committed against activists.

SOURCE: Freedom House

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Riot police officer in Bangkok tests positive for Covid-19

Caitlin Ashworth

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Riot police officer in Bangkok tests positive for Covid-19 | The Thaiger
Protest in Bangkok on February 28 / Photo by Thai News Pix

A riot police officer, who was deployed at the recent pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, has tested positive for Covid-19. His supervisor, chief of Wang Thonglang station Ekapop Tanprayoon, says the officer had visited Samut Sakhon, a coronavirus hotspot.

Riot police who worked closely with the infected officer, Somyot Nuamcharoen, are ordered to quarantine. The Wang Thonglang police station and any items the police officer handled are being disinfected, the chief says.

The officer had met up with friends during a visit to Samut Sakhon, just southwest of Bangkok. He travelled to the coastal province on February 18 and returned to Bangkok the next day.

On the 20th, he was deployed to a protest outside of parliament, just after returning from his trip to the “red zone” province. On Sunday, he deployed the protest outside the military barracks in Bangkok. The demonstration turned violent and numerous people were injured.

On Tuesday, his friend from Samut Sakhon tested positive for the virus. The infected officer was tested for Covid-19 that day and his result came back positive yesterday.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Transport

“Sealed route” set at Bangkok airport for international transfers

Caitlin Ashworth

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“Sealed route” set at Bangkok airport for international transfers | The Thaiger
Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok / Photo by Caitlin Ashworth

Thailand is now allowing international transits and transfers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by using a so-called “sealed route” arranged at the airport to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has now set guidelines for passengers who have a layover at the Bangkok airport.

Passengers will not be allowed to leave Concourse E. A “sealed route” for the passengers will be set up at Gate E10 and E9, allowing passengers to enter the airport at Gate E10, go through security screening and then either board the transit aircraft at Gate E9 or go on a designated shuttle bus directly to an aircraft.

Social distancing is required for all passengers in waiting areas and a face mask must be worn at all times. The CAAT says food and beverage services will be available at the airport’s “sealed route” waiting area, but there will be “active oversight” on the services. Areas will also be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Passengers must present required documents…

  • A fit-to-fly health certificate
  • Medical certificate declaring a negative Covid-19 result issued no more than 72 hours before departure
  • Travel health insurance that covers Covid-19 treatment expenses up to $100,000 USD

If demand increases, the airport will add Gates E5, E7 and E8 to the sealed route. If Concourse E is under maintenance, then Concourse F will be used under the same plan.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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