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Phuket Gazette Thailand News: Thailand agrees to talk peace with southern insurgent group

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Gazette Thailand News: Thailand agrees to talk peace with southern insurgent group | The Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– Thailand news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Thailand agrees to talk peace with southern Muslim rebel group
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Thai security officials on Thursday signed a deal to start peace talks with a Muslim rebel group involved in escalating violence in the southern provinces that has killed more than 5,000 people since 2004.

Thai security officials and representatives of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, signed the agreement in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the visit of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for the 5th Malaysia-Thailand Annual Consultation.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and PM Yingluck were expected to appraise existing cooperation and explore new initiatives, Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The leaders were expected to discuss efforts to promote peace, stability, prosperity and connectivity in the border areas, as well as cooperation in labor, trade, education and tourism.

ANALYSIS: Doubts over BRN chief’s control of South rebels
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Yingluck won’t rule out role for Thaksin in Malaysia-brokered talks, while Najib says negotiations to be held in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks

Yesterday’s agreement between the self-proclaimed leader of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Hassan Thoyib, and National Security Council (NSC) chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr raises doubts as to whether it will have any impact on the insurgency and the violence in the deep South, because the BRN is too factionalized.

Sources in other separatist movements, including BRN factions not affiliated with Hassan, as well as Thai and Malaysian security officials, said Hassan does not have any major influence with the militants on the ground.

These sources said they are aware of many other separatist leaders whose credentials are considered much better than Hassan’s because they have demonstrated they have solid command and control on the ground.

However, they will not come to the negotiating table because the Thai government refuses to grant them immunity, the sources said.

Thailand can’t be reaching out one hand for peace while at the same time holding an arrest warrant in another hand, they said.

Since these leaders refuse to come to the table, Thailand had to settle for someone who was available – and that someone was Hassan, Thai and Malaysian officials said.

Tawil Pliensri, a former secretary-general of the NSC, doubted the government was dealing with the right person. As there were several groups and factions involved in the violence in the South, betting on one person was too risky, he said.

Indeed, Thai authorities have been dealing with several groups, and upgrading any specific group would not be the right way, he said. “I don’t think the pact [with BRN] will end all problems,” he said.

Betting on Hassan was a leap of faith, and it is hoped that Hassan can convince other separatist leaders to join the peace process, which Kuala Lumpur has been asked to facilitate.

“God willing, we’ll do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together,” Hassan said after a brief signing ceremony with NSC chief Paradorn.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the peace talks would take place in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks. He regarded the signing as “merely the starting point of a long process” because many issues have to be resolved, but added that it was a “solid demonstration of the common resolve to find and establish an enduring peace in southern Thailand”.

The peace pact was signed in Malaysia shortly before the arrival of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was making an official visit.

Yingluck said Thailand “wished to see a lasting solution in the southern border provinces”, where the nine-year revolt by a number of shadowy groups has claimed more than 5,500 lives.

“We need to move forward as soon as possible,” she told a news conference after a meeting with Najib in the Malaysian government headquarters of Putrajaya.

Thailand had taken up a similar approach from 2006 to last year under the so-called Geneva Process, under which a European NGO was to mediate talks between the NSC and one of the three factions of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo).

But Prime Minister Yingluck, who did not rule out the role of her elder brother Thaksin in taking part in peace talks, ditched the Geneva Process and gave the mandate to facilitate to Malaysia.

In a statement, Pulo yesterday expressed support for the Malaysia-brokered talks between Thailand and the BRN.

Within Pulo there are at least three known leaders – Samsudine Khan, Noor Abdulrahman and Kasturi Mahkota.

It was not clear if Hassan has any pending charges against him. His claim to fame is the fact that he was a personal assistant to the late Haji Amin Toemeena, the late brother of Den Toemeena, a former Pattani MP under the Wadah Faction, which is affiliated with the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

Thai and Malaysian official sources said Bangkok really wanted Sapae-ing Basor, the former principle of Thamvithya Mulniti Islamic school in Yala, to come to the table with Paradorn.

Sapae-ing is the only exiled leader who is a household name in Thailand’s Malay-speaking South.

Thai police accuse him of being a major separatist leader of BRN, but sources in the movement see him as a spiritual leader of not just the militants on the ground but of all Muslims in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces.

In this respect, Sapae-ing could serve as the much-needed link between the insurgents, the exiled separatist leaders and the Malay Muslim residents of the deep South. But because he is a spiritual leader, Sapae-ing will not permit himself to be exploited for political gain. “Spiritual leaders don’t compromise,” said one of his closest associates.

Exiled separatist leaders said BRN is not the only group with militants on the ground. One leader said at least three of the 16 militants killed at the recent shoot-out in Bacho, Narathiwat, were affiliated with Pulo.

There is also the question of Malaysia’s role in this peace process. Hardliners in the Thai government and the Thai Army, as well as separatist leaders, said Malaysia is not an honest broker, but a stakeholder. The hardliners say they would rather deal directly with the separatist leaders, collectively or individually.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Expats

Opinion: Retirees and medical insurance in Thailand

The Thaiger

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Opinion: Retirees and medical insurance in Thailand | The Thaiger

By Barry Kenyon of The Pattaya Mail

Thai government spokespeople, in recent years, have emphasised that that Thai hospitals are not free for foreigners. They have cited examples of sick and crowd-funded aliens desperate to get back to their home countries, or annual reports from public hospitals bemoaning the unpaid bills of foreign nationals.

So far not a lot has happened. Holders of one year 0/A visas or ten year 0/X, issued by Thai consulates and embassies abroad, do now require medical insurance worth at least 400,000 baht for in-patient treatment and 40,000 baht for out-patient care. But the vast majority of expat retirees in Thailand receive their annual extensions of stay at a Thai immigration office. They do not currently require insurance.

Will that change? It’s not clear. The government has already stated that long-stay aliens with a history of physical illness may be checked out before an extension of stay is granted. What this means, if anything, is unclear but it could signify the immigration bureau’s refusal if an applicant is discovered to have unpaid hospital bills.

One substantial reason for leaving well alone is that many expat retirees self-insure because they are too old or infirm to obtain medical insurance. But these wealthier retirees contribute billions of baht annually to (mostly) private hospital coffers when significant surgery is required. They would be forced out of the country if unobtainable medical cover was made compulsory, thus leading to a gigantic loss of income.

It’s also true that the mandatory insurance requirement for 0/A visa holders is modest. A sum of 400,000 baht may seem a lot but is unlikely to cover the total bill for heart surgery, most cancer operations and stays in an intensive care unit, at any rate in the private sector.

Read the rest of the editorial HERE.

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Coronation

Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing | The Thaiger

The number of Indian tourists coming to Thailand has doubled over the past half a decade and continues to grow by an average of 15% each year. The figures are from a survey conducted by researchers Nutchanart Kuprasert and Jidapha Chuayphan on behalf of the Bank of Thailand.

Contributing factors include an overall increase in Indians travelling overseas as evidenced by 10 million new passports being issued annually. Thailand is a popular choice for first-time Indian tourists as distances are short and travel is easy thanks to some 3,000 direct flights now being offered by various carriers between both main and secondary destinations including to Phuket plus the introduction of free visa-on-arrival.

The study indicates that Indian tourist will keep catching up to the leading tourist demographic, the Chinese , but not surpass them any time soon. Projections for the next decade show that some 21 million Chinese tourists will visit Thailand compared to 14 million Indian nationals. But in terms of spending, Indian tourists are similar strong spenders, like the Chinese, and able to travel to Thailand all year round, even during the low season.

Popular destinations are listed as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. In addition, information from tour operators in Thailand reveals that Indian tourists are not as sensitive as Chinese tourists to unexpected events. Generally speaking, if the trip has been planned in advance, they will not change plans or cancel travel.

Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing | News by The Thaiger

The report divides Indian tourists who enter Thailand into 3 main groups…

• Tourism for vacation accounts for 85%. Most visitors are between the ages of 25 and 35, prefer to travel with friends or come here for a honeymoon because the cost is not high. They spend an average of 27,000 baht per person and favour the country as they can get a visa on arrival. Some groups use Thailand as a base for visiting other countries.

• Weddings account for 5% of visitors, mostly amongst the well-heeled. The data show that more than 300 Indian come to get married in Thailand every year often with wedding parties exceeding 200 guests. In India, luxury events such as weddings are a show of family status, and the budget ranges from 10 million to 120 million baht per event. Couples favour 15 well-known 5-star hotels and the average spending per person is 50,000 baht.

• MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) groups or group meetings account for 10%, with many large companies choosing Thailand as an incentive destination. These popularly travel in large groups of around 800 people and are likely to visit Thailand on multiple occasions. The average spent per person per time is 76,000 baht. Thai business tour operators indicate that some groups request specific travel programs in Pattaya, ask for entertainment venues and request hotels that allow outsiders to stay.

The study shows that seminar tourist groups and marriage groups spend the most and recommends that Thailand focuses on attracting these visitors while also paying attention to maintaining the millennial tourist base because India has a large young population. However, it also points to a need to modify Thailand’s image as a cheap place to stay and erase its reputation as a ‘sex’ destination.

SOURCE: The Nation

Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing | News by The Thaiger

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Politics

Future Forward’s Thanathorn in court over alleged media share holdings

The Thaiger

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Future Forward’s Thanathorn in court over alleged media share holdings | The Thaiger

The charismatic frontman of Thailand’s anti-military parliamentary bloc appeared in court today accused of breaching election rules by holding media shares. The case could see him barred from politics and jailed for up to 10 years.

40 year old Thai billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has rattled Thailand’s arch-royalist establishment since seizing the political limelight with his caustic take downs of the army’s role in Thai politics and society. His upstart Future Forward Party, formed only 12 months before this year’s March elections, became Thailand’s third largest political group in the poll which ended five years of outright junta rule. They ended up with more votes than the older, more established Democrats, surprising many, particularly the Military-backed Palang Pracharat party.

The party was backed by millions of young people wearied by the dominance of the conservative old guard. But Thanathorn’s electoral success has been matched by a battery of legal woes.

He has been suspended from attending parliament since the Election Commission accused him of breaking polling laws by holding media shares – an offence that carries a long jail term.

Arriving for the first hearing at the Constitutional Court on Friday, Thanathorn again pleaded his “innocence” telling reporters the media company had ceased operations five months before the election.

“We are convinced that there is no evidence.”

Thanathorn, who held 675,000 shares in V-Luck Media, has repeatedly insisted they were sold to his mother on January 8, weeks before he registered to run as a candidate.

As judges fired questions at him during today’s hearing, the usually cool-headed party leader appeared tense, saying he couldn’t recall the legal details of divesting the shares. His supporters say the case has been trumped up to take out Thailand’s most popular politician and deliver a gut punch to the FFP and its radical reform agenda.

The party wants to amend the constitution to excise the military’s influence, slash defence spending and end conscription to an army that has carried out a coup at an average of once every seven years since the 1932 establishment of a constitutional monarchy.

“The party is against the military… I support their vision and I absolutely support Mr Thanathorn,” 35 year old Punjarat Wattawongvibul old AFP outside the court.

A ruling is expected to be announced on November 20.

The highly interventionist court disbanded a different anti-military opposition party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra right before the March elections. Thanathorn has also been singled out by the kingdom’s powerful army chief.

The Thai Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong last week delivered a thinly-veiled warning of the spectre of a communist rebellion in a speech flecked with barely-concealed references to Thanathorn and his party.

Future Forward have been a rare voice of criticism against Thailand’s royalist establishment.

The monarchy remains at the apex of Thailand as the Head of State.

Yesterday 70 Future Forward MPs voted against a royal decree transferring two key army units to the direct control of the Thai King, an unprecedented political objection to a royal command.

The decree still passed parliament with an overwhelming majority.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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