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Kra Canal – the 28 Billion Baht shortcut

The Thaiger & The Nation

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By Jintana Panyaarvudh

Despite a history going back three centuries, the highly controversial and politically sensitive proposed Kra Canal mega-project in southern Thailand is once again up for debate. At a forum held yesterday by Rangsit University entitled the “Stakeholders in Kra [email protected] Thai”, national security and the canal’s impact on tourism were among the main issues of concern as experts made their cases for and against the project.

The Kra Canal project would cut a canal through the Malay Peninsula to allow east-west passage of ships from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean without having to detour all the way south around Singapore island at the bottom of the Peninsula.

The forum urged the government to set up a national committee to conduct a feasibility study on all concerned aspects of the “New Gateway to Maritime Silk Road” project.

General Pongthep Thesprateep, chairman of Thai Canal Association (TCA) – a group of influential former top brass soldiers advocating the project – called on the government to set up a national committee that can help reach a decisive conclusion on the long-envisioned channel that would run through the country’s southern isthmus.

“The project has both pros and cons, so if the committee concludes that the canal would benefit the country it should be pursued, otherwise the proposed project can be scrapped,” Pongthep said, referring to many discussions about the project in Thai society for more than a century that had led to no clear decision.

According to a study by TCA, he said the canal would benefit the country as it would connect the Indian and Pacific oceans and dramatically shorten East-West shipping routes. The TCA study claims that 65 per cent of people in the South, which will be affected by the project, were agreeable to it.

Anek Laothamatas, the Political Reform Committee chairman who was introduced at the forum as an expert on the route proposal for the canal, said that in ancient times people travelled by sea hence he thought Thailand needed to exercise its “sea power”, as the Kingdom has an advantage in geo-politics. Thailand is among a few countries that benefits from its location between two oceans – Pacific and Indian – while China, a country 20 times bigger than Thailand, has access to only one ocean, Anek said.

“It’s not a big deal or a new matter. We should not be afraid. We should be brave [to make a decision]. Our country has developed to this stage because we are linked to the sea. We should not see it as an obstruction but a linkage with others,” he said.

Samart Ratchapolsitte, former Bangkok deputy governor and ex-Democrat MP, suggested that the government treat the project as state policy and initiate a Southern Economic Corridor similar to its Eastern Economic Corridor initiative. Samart supported the setting up of a national committee to study the project as he was concerned about the worthiness of the project or how many cargo ships would use the new route, as compared to the existing routes.

An opponent of the canal project, Admiral Jumpol Loompikanon, a deputy permanent secretary at the Defence Ministry, said the country needed to balance geo-politics and geo-economics. Jumpol, a Royal Thai Navy spokesman and a member of the marine and coastal resources strategy panel, added that judging from the past he was worried about disputes arising between super powers and neighbouring countries. He cited the conflict over the Spratly Islands between China and the Philippines. He said it was difficult for security agencies to decide whether to pursue the project because more comprehensive information was still needed.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, the deputy dean of the fisheries faculty at Kasetsart University, raised concerns over the impact on tourism and environment if a canal was dug as proposed. The proposed route will pass some tourist attractions in the South, including Phuket and Krabi. The tourism industry generates around 3 trillion baht for the country annually and is ranked number three in the world, according to a report of the World Tourism Organisation, he said. Torn did not express an opinion on the project but cautioned about the dangers to tourism and the environment, citing the oil spill in the Gulf of Thailand, off the coast of Koh Samet and Map Ta Phut in Rayong Province in 2013.

“What is the risk management going to be like? The proposed canal route would run past tourist areas in the Andaman Sea that generate about 40 per cent or almost 2 trillion baht of the total revenue from the tourism industry,” he added.

Former Second Army commander Lt-General Tawatchai Samutsakorn, who supported the idea of setting up a committee to study the project, said PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha had told him that the premier would not be in power long enough to pursue the project.

“Prayut told me that the right time [for the project] has yet to come,” Tawatchai, a former classmate of Prayut, told the forum. However, Tawatchai believes any political party campaigning for the proposed man-made waterway, which will link the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, could win at least 10,000 votes from voters in each of the southern provinces in the next election.

Tawatchai claimed that former prime minister and chief adviser of the Democrat Party, Chuan Leekpai, whose political stronghold lies in the South, supported the project and said if the country delays making progress, it would lag behind other countries.

- The Thaiger & The Nation

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Phuket

Phuket man arrested with 20,000 methamphetamine pills

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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A man has been arrested with methamphetamine pills, crystal methamphetamine, a gun and ammunition.

A team of the Border Patrol Police last week arrested 22 year old Tanaset ‘Fluk’ Kraimaneelert  from Songkhla at a housing estate in Rassada. Police seized 1.06 grams of crystal methamphetamine, 20,000 methamphetamine pills, a gun and 21 bullets.

Tanaset was taken to the Phuket City Police Station and been charged with possession of Category 1 drugs with intent to sell and illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.

The arrest of Tanaset came after police first arrested 24 year old woman Wichada Jamnongjit who was caught with methamphetamine pills. Wichada told police that she bought the drugs from a man named only as ‘Fluk’. Apparently Fluk comes to her house every day.

Police arrested Fluk at the housing estate in Rassada. Tanaset (Fluk) told police he stores the drugs at a house in Koh Kaew. Tanaset told police that he bought the drugs from Weerayut ‘Mo’ Kutcharat. He claimed the gun and bullets belonged to him.

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Phuket

Every Phuket tour boat is being checked

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Deputy Commander of the Tourist Police Bureau, Maj Gen Surachet Hakparn, with the help of the Marine Department, are checking about 400 tour boats in Phuket. Any boat found not fully compliant to leave port with all its safety equipment in working order, will remain at port.

Maj Gen Surachet says, “All about 300 to 400 tour boats in Phuket are being checked. Boats must be fixed if they are found with incomplete safety equipment or are unsafely heading to sea in any way. We have to get back tourist confidence when they are travelling in Phuket.”

“If there is any boat that leaves port and then later capsizes, boat inspectors will have to take responsibility too.”

“In addition we’re also checking for any encroachment in Phuket as well as the safety and registration of other tour buses and taxis. These are also part of Phuket’s tourism business. ”

“I can confirm that any government officer who ignores land encroachment, or allows unsafe boats to leave port, will face legal action.”

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Chiang Rai

“They’ll grow up to work for country’s benefit” – Dr Pak

The Thaiger & The Nation

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“I’m confident that the Mu Pa boys will grow up to be excellent citizens of the country and work for the benefits of the country’s future and reputation,” wrote Dr Pak Loharnchun in a Facebook post. The Army doctor played a leading role in helping the boys.

The doctor also posted photos of himself giving the boys goodbye hugs in Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital where they received medical care after being rescued.

Pak praised assistant coach Ekkapol Chantawong for having “a good heart” and having made sacrifices to help and comfort the boys during their entrapment.

The doctor, who has multiple certifications including for SEAL operations, joined the footballers in the cave after they were discovered by British divers on July 2, and remained with them until the last of them were extracted on July 10.

Pak says the innocence and optimism of the boys impressed him, as did their remaining in high spirits during the time of crisis.

“I was told that after they were trapped inside the cave … every day they used pieces of rock to dig to find a way out despite having no food. The hole they dug was quite deep, about five metres.”

They were also disciplined, collecting their rubbish and placing it in a black bag, he wrote.

They also listened to Ekkapol and followed his instructions, the doctor wrote. He told them not to pick up things or remove anything from the cave.

25 year old Ekkapol, or ‘Ake’, was the eldest of those rescued, with the rest aged 11 to 16.

“I secretly noticed since day one that the coach would make sure that the boys ate first and he usually gave his portion to the boys,” the doctor said.

“I’m confident of the coach’s excellent care of the boys before they were located, as their mental and physical conditions were way better than I had expected,” Pak said.

Some netizens have criticised Ekkapol for leading the boys into the cave where they became trapped on June 23 when the water quickly rose after flash floods. However many others have given him their moral support, while encouraging him not to blame himself

Pak and other SEALs were discharged on Sunday while the boys were scheduled to be discharged on Thursday.

Get out your handkerchiefs…

ORIGINAL POST: The Nation

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