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Exiled Thai dissident kidnapped in broad daylight in Phnom Penh

Jack Burton

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Exiled Thai dissident kidnapped in broad daylight in Phnom Penh | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Straits Times

In the latest in a string of mysterious disappearances of Southeast Asian dissidents living in exile, gunmen kidnapped a Thai political activist in Cambodia, rights advocates announced today. 37 year old Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who fled Thailand after 2014’s military coup amid accusations he broke the country’s strict lèse-majesté law, was abducted at gunpoint and bundled into a car as he walked in front of his apartment in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Thursday, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. With his final words “I can’t breathe!” Satsaksit was manhandled into an unmarked vehicle and driven away, according to a friend. It’s been 24 hours since the disappearance and no one knows where he is.

“The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities,” according Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. A police spokesman told reporters authorities had not detained or arrested the Satsaksit and there was not enough information for police to open an investigation.

Satsaksit continued his political activism in exile and Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in 2018 for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the military government. On Wednesday, he criticised PM Prayut Chan-o-cha online.

According to a 2015 Thai media report citing a security source, Wanchalearm was among 29 exiled activists accused of violating the lèse-majesté law that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the monarchy.

At least 8 Thai activists who fled after the 2014 coup and took refuge in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have disappeared, friends and rights groups say, and some have been found dead.

The hashtag #SaveWanchalearm is trending on Thai Twitter today, with more than 400,000 re tweets and some activists reportedly plan a demonstration later in the day.

Human rights groups have accused governments in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, of helping each other to forcibly return several dissidents and asylum seekers in recent years.

Thai police have denied all knowledge and responsibility for the abduction. Reached by phone, police spokesman Kissana Phattanacharoen had this to say:

“Cambodia is not Thailand. You must ask the relevant country.”

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | Khaosod English

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Thailand

Migrant workers risk losing their legal status, the Cabinet to extend work permit amnesty

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Migrant workers risk losing their legal status, the Cabinet to extend work permit amnesty | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Frontier Myanmar

Over 1.7 million migrant workers in Thailand are going to lose their legal working status because they can’t submit work permit renewal and a health certificate with Covid-19 test results in time. The Labour Ministry then proposes the cabinet will extend the registration period (amnesty) for migrant workers to help maintain their legal status. Migrant workers, including those illegal and unemployed workers, are required to register with authorities via the ministry’s website from January 15 until February 13.

According to the Labour Minister, every migrant worker to renew their work permit must receive a Covid-19 test at hospitals designated by the Public Health Ministry. The Department of Medical Sciences will be responsible for the testing costs.

Illegal and unemployed workers, who registered with the Ministry, will be allowed to stay in the Kingdom for 2 years without penalties. Only those migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are allowed to overstay their current visas, but are required to register with the provincial employment office in the area they work, as part of the amnesty.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Environment

Laos – the ‘battery’ of Asia and a ticking environmental time bomb

The Thaiger

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Laos – the ‘battery’ of Asia and a ticking environmental time bomb | The Thaiger

LAOS POWER FACTS:

Number of power plants soon to be completed by the end of 2020: 53 hydropower plants under construction or in the planning stage, including those set to be completed this year; there will be more than 90 hydropower plants in Laos with a combined installed capacity of almost 14,000MW.

Transmission lines that connect with neighbouring countries: 14 carry power to Thailand, 2 to Vietnam, 1 to China, 2 to Cambodia, and 1 to Myanmar.

Trick question. What uses more power? Siam Paragon in Bangkok or the entire province of Mae Hong Son (with 250,000 residents in north-west Thailand)?

The astonishing answer is, of course, Siam Paragon. By a factor of DOUBLE the power consumption of the north-western Thai province near the Myanmar border. Siam Paragon consumes 123 GWh of electricity a year (in 2011), compared to the quarter-million inhabitants of Mae Hong Son Province, who over the same period, used 65 GWh.

So, whilst you trek across some ancient hills enjoying an old and proud culture in Thailand’s north-west you need to compare that with some of the opulent malls in central Bangkok which can easily compare with their counterparts in Singapore, New York or London.

The worlds of luxury brands Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Tiffany and Cartier, and the power these shops consume, is an entirely different world from other parts of rural Thailand. But Siam Paragon is just one of half a dozen luxury malls sprawled along a 6 kilometre stretch of the city’s upscale Sukhumvit stretch. They all consume vast amounts of power along with a growing number of expensive condominium projects.

So, Thailand has turned to Laos and the hydro-electric potential along the Mekong to feed its growing electricity demand. Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, currently under construction, are among the cornerstones of a dam-building bonanza by Laos to realise its aspiration to become the “Battery of Asia”. Thailand is one of Laos’ key partners and buyers of power. And the kingdom’s largest energy consumer is (no surprise here) Bangkok, with it’s sparkling lights and air-conditioning ticking over the electricity meters at rapid pace.

Many analysts worry the planned hydropower dams will devastate fish populations, harm agriculture and hurt culture and tourism along the fragile Mekong basin, threatening the livelihoods of 65 million people who rely on the river for income and food.

With 42 power plants now operational, Laos is poised to realise its electricity ambitions. With a current installed capacity of approximately 6,000MW, the Lao government expects to achieve 14,000MW by the end of this year.

Thailand is not on its own with massive development and expansion putting pressure on the older ways of life. But the disparity in the Kingdom between the power-hungry city life and the older-style agriculture is now sharply in focus with this new deal with the Laos power providers.

But a devastating collapse at a hydro dam in July 2018 shon the spotlight on Laos’ energy ambitions again. The devastation caused by the collapse of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam in Attapeu province was sharp proof of the potential dangers in the Laotian government’s plans. The landlocked country sells much of its electricity abroad, which makes up 30-40% of its total exports.

The Lao PDR government is planning to double current energy production in the next 2 years. But environmental groups are warning of the project’s impact on the environment and the nations the river supports.

The movement of water, fish and sediment downstream has historically supported tens of millions of people along the Mekong, and efforts to constrain its flow are proving disastrous for the riverside communities.

For nearly 20 years, activists have called for action against the development of hydro-dams and water projects. But this month the campaign took the next step with plans to focus on taking action at the policy level.

It took 2 decades, but activists have now launched the “Mekong People’s Forum.” 200 people attended the forum including local villagers, conservationists, journalists, and representatives from the US and Australian embassies. The Chinese embassy, although invited, did not send anyone to attend the event. China is responsible for 11 dams along the Mekong.

This is the first time the many conservation groups and activists have come together with a single forum to tackle the many challenges for the river. Several dams have now been built upstream in Laos and China causing massive problems for the natural flow of the river downstream through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Cambodian PM tests negative for Covid-19 after meeting with Hungarian foreign minister

Caitlin Ashworth

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Cambodian PM tests negative for Covid-19 after meeting with Hungarian foreign minister | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikimedia

Cambodian PM Hun Sen says he tested negative for Covid-19, but he will be in self-quarantine for the next 14 days. On Tuesday, the prime minister met with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijarto, who tested positive for Covid-19 while in Bangkok, Thai officials announced yesterday.

The Hungary delegation had a 1-day visit in Phnom Penh on Tuesday before travelling to Bangkok where the foreign minister tested positive for the virus. On Monday, before leaving Hungary and travelling to Cambodia, the Hungarian delegates had undergone testing and had medical certificates declaring that they were free from Covid-19.

Photos of show the Hungarian foreign minister not wearing a face mask when meeting with the Cambodian prime minister and other officials.

A number of Cambodian ministers and senior officials are quarantined after meeting with the Hungarian foreign minister. The prime minister says himself and 17 other at his home including his wife and bodyguards have all tested negative.

“Although I have not contracted Covid-19, I will self-quarantine for 14 days as advised by doctors.”

The Hungarian foreign minister and 12 delegates were tested on Tuesday upon arrival at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, according to Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. The Hungarian foreign minister tested positive in the RT-PCR test. His infection was reconfirmed in a second test. Anutin says Peter was asymptomatic and taken to Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute where he was given the anti-viral drug Favirpiravir.

The delegates cancelled all appointments yesterday and flew back home on a private jet, according to Anutin. The foreign minister had been scheduled to meet with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha.

SOURCE: Thai PBS| Associated Press | Phnom Penh Post

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