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Questions over reliable death toll in the Laos floods – foreign media banned

The Thaiger

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Questions over reliable death toll in the Laos floods – foreign media banned | The Thaiger
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PHOTO: Thai PBS

In a sign of the times where social media is simply instantaneous, but often unreliable, the Lao PM Thongloun Sisoulith is warning members of the public to be aware and conscious about news and reports on the deadly flooding in southern Attapeu province. But some international news agencies are claiming that the Laos government is trying to downplay the death toll in a face-saving PR exercise (more about that later).

The question on verifiable numbers arises after the Laos government banned most foreign media from the disaster zone. International aid organisations are also questioning the official toll figures being released by the Laos government.

Meanwhile the Laos PM is asking people to follow news from Lao mainstream media outlets, which acquire information first-hand from officials authorised to provide the information. The premier issued the warning in a press briefing in Vientiane after returning from the flooding in the province.
The warnings follow misinformation and fake news that were posted online via social media and then reported and rebroadcast by some foreign mainstream media outlets.

Photos of severe disasters which happened elsewhere and some time ago were also posted on social media pages as if they were pictures of Attapeu’s flooding.

Since the flash flood, caused by the fracture of Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower reservoir’s saddle dam D, lashed villages in Sanamxay district on Monday night (July 23), reports carried by social media and most foreign mainstream media have exaggerated the death toll and the number of missing victims.

Questions over reliable death toll in the Laos floods - foreign media banned | News by The Thaiger

“So, members of the public should analyse content critically and assess its veracity.”

In the press briefing, the Laos PM expressed heartfelt gratitude to all sectors for extending sincere assistance to the rescue operation and relief effort. On behalf of the Lao government and people, he extended heartfelt thanks to governments and peoples of friendly countries and international organisations for sharing sympathy, expressing the intention to and extending assistance and support for the search, rescue and relief effort.

“They have given physical and spiritual support to the victims to enable them to return to normal lives as soon as possible,” PM Thongloun said.

He called on Lao compatriots within the country and living abroad to extend assistance and support to help address and overcome the disaster.

“I am confident that the incident [disaster] will be overcome. The situation will return to normalcy soon,” he said.

Meanwhile the BBC has questioned the ‘official’ figures issued by the Laos government.

Government statistics say 27 people have been killed and 131 people are missing – but aid agencies believe the country may be downplaying the scale of the disaster and the final death toll may be considerably higher.

Local residents told the BBC that they believed as many as 300 people may have lost their lives.

Meanwhile up to 3,000 people are reportedly still stranded, their rooftops now islands in the murky floodwater.

Few details of the rescue operation are being released by the Laotian authorities – but a BBC team managed to gain brief access to the site and survivors, despite a ban on foreign media.

Read the rest of the BBC report HERE.

Construction of the $1.2bn Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project – a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams – involved Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms.

The dam was 90% complete and had been set to start operating commercially next year. The Laos government is staking a lot of its economic future by providing reliable electricity for the region and has dubbed the ‘battery of Asia. Many of the hydroelectric schemes are privately funded by South Korean companies.

 

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Southeast Asia

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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Crime

Fishermen abuse and slavery cases solved “off-the-record”

Caitlin Ashworth

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Fishermen abuse and slavery cases solved “off-the-record” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Caitlin Ashworth

Many cases of alleged abuse and slavery at sea are not being reported to the Thailand government. The Thomson Reuters Foundation did an analysis on the claims of slavery and abuse on Thai fishing boats and found that the majority of complaints are not documented with labour ministry officials who solve issues “off-the-record”.

Many fisherman agree to mediation because they don’t want to waste time if the case goes to court, Suwanee Dolah from Raks Thai Foundation, a non-profit focusing on a variety of humanitarian and supports fishermen, mostly from Cambodia and Myanmar. Employers would rather not have a large number of complaints, Dolah says. One labour ministry official explained to Reuters that they encourage the employer and employee to mediate before submitting a complaint, if the case is minor.

Reuters obtained labour abuse complaints from 289 fishing workers lodged between 2o15 and 2020. Nothing was documented on the outcomes. Some fishermen seek help from charities rather than the government. Since 2015, charities have been helping out around 1,600 fishermen solve problems with their employer involving payment and abuse, according to Reuters.

Although complaints are supposedly getting resolved, a lawyer specialising in human trafficking told Reuters that labour inspectors tend to support the employers rather than the workers. He added that many workers are afraid of taking legal action.

“If the cycle of violations kept in the dark and solved one-on-one goes on without punishment, some say the employers may keep abusing the employees…. it will cause a never-ending cycle of rights violations.”

SOURCE: Reuters

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Low cost carrier Thai AirAsia ponders merger

Jack Burton

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Low cost carrier Thai AirAsia ponders merger | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Tassapon Bijleveld - Travel Daily News Asia

The CEO of Thai AirAsia says it may merge with another low-cost carrier to avoid cutthroat pricing wars once flights resume after the Covid-19 crisis subsides, and has admitted to conversations with other airlines. He says if tourism doesn’t resume by July, TAA will be forced to begin laying off employees, downsizing the company and its fleet to keep its business alive.

Thailand has 7 low-cost carriers which has forced a vicious price-war in the past five years providing cheap flights for people using the carriers in Thailand.

But local low cost carriers have suffered disproportionately over the past few months as the Covid-19 pandemic virtually shut down air travel in Asia and in many countries around the world. The Thai government’s restrictions on international and even domestic air travel have caused TAA serious losses. Some 40% of its revenue previously came from flights passing through Phuket’s airport.

The Thai franchise of Air Asia is losing about 1.2 billion baht per month due to the lockdown. Its 60 aircraft fleet is left stranded at airports according to Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of SET-listed Asia Aviation.

Tassapon, a major shareholder with 40.52% of Asia Aviation, the owner of TAA, told the Bangkok Post he’s already had conversations with other airlines about the possibility of a merger. He couldn’t disclose any details but says there isn’t a concrete plan, and other conditions must be fulfilled to enable a decision.

“A merger is possible if aviation in Thailand resumes with the same old fiery price wars. Furthermore now we have more limited revenue sources.”

Though domestic air services have taken off since May, passenger loads have not been good, as only those required to travel are doing so, and there is virtually no leisure travel.

SOURCE: Chiang Rai Times | Bangkok Post

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