AO MAKHAM: Following a mass meeting between villagers and high-level government officials last night, and agreement by the officials to two additional demands made by the villagers, the blockade of Cape Panwa ended peacefully this morning. A barricade across the road leading to the cape was erected on Wednesday as part of a mass protest at the shooting to death of a 16-year-old villager, after he was involved in an argument with NCOs from the nearby Royal Thai Navy Third Fleet shore base. On stage at the mass meeting were Phuket Governor Pongpayome Vasaputi; the Commissioner of Provincial Police Region 8, Pol Lt Gen Paisarn Tangjaitrong; and the Commander in Chief of the Third Fleet, Vice Admiral Sathirapan Keyanon. For 2½ hours, they faced a 1,000-strong crowd from a makeshift stage in front of the villagers’ barricade, attempting to negotiate on the six demands set earlier by the villagers, which included a deadline of midnight tonight for the boy’s killer to be sentenced by a court. Central to the solution of the situation was a forthright speech by Gov Pongpayome, in which he underlined the importance to Thailand’s security of having the naval base in Phuket. The villagers had demanded that, if their deadline was not met, the Navy should leave Phuket. They had also warned that they might take drastic action against the base. The Governor pointed out that Phuket is a province on the border with Burma, and that the navy is needed to deal with gun-runners, drug-smugglers and illegal immigrants. He asked villagers whether they really wanted to jeopardize the security of Phuket and Thailand in general because of the actions of one sailor. Some villagers applauded his speech. The protestors’ leaders decided that they would lift the blockade provided that the police completed their investigation of the case before the deadline, and provided that the authorities agreed to two further demands. These were: – That the Navy will transfer all sailors involved in the events that led up to the murder – and all other sailors who have behaved badly and bothered villagers – to other bases within six months. – That a committee consisting of village representatives and the Navy will meet once a month to discuss all matters concerning relationships between the village and the base. This was a suggestion initially made at the mass meeting by Vice Admiral Sathirapan. At 7 am, police investigators wrapped up their investigation by performing a reenactment of the murder, though without the participation of the man accused of the murder, Petty Officer First Class Wanchai Pongsawad, because of fears that he might be seized by the villagers and lynched. At 10 am the road was reopened.
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