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Saturday, September 10, 2011

'Worst disaster in 100 years' hits Uttaradit

Three people have been killed and 12 others remain missing after their villages were hit by fierce run-off and mudslides in Nam Pat district of Uttaradit, in what was described as the worst disaster to hit the area in a century.
Houses stand precariously after water run-off from the mountains ravaged villages in Nam Pat district of Uttaradit yesterday. BOONNUM KERDKAEW
Authorities said the water run-off occurred about 3am yesterday. It was triggered by a continual heavy downpour which began on Thursday evening.
Trees washed down from the mountains by the run-off slammed into 30 homes in Ban Huay Dua, Ban Ton Khanoon and Ban Huay Kom.
Ban Huay Dua and Ban Ton Khanoon in tambon Nam Phai were hit the hardest.
Fon Thornsaeng, from Ban Ton Khanoon, said the run-off gushed into the homes as villagers ran for their lives.
"Many of us cried for help but there wasn't much anyone could do," she said.
Her two-year-old grandson was pulled from her grasp and swept away by the water. He has not yet been found.
Sanan Maliwong, of the Nam Phai tambon administration organisation, said it was the worst disaster to hit the tambon in 100 years.
The disaster warning system was not working because of a power outage.
"We shouted and fired [gun] shots in the air to warn people," he said.
A woman in her forties was found dead under the debris of a house in Ban Huay Dua yesterday morning.
Public health permanent secretary Paijit Warachit, third from left, manages to stand in the water after the boat that shuttled him to visit flood victims in Bang Ban district of Ayutthaya tipped over. SUNTHORN PONGPAO
In the afternoon, two more bodies, identified as husband and wife Prasit and Prik Indeesri, were retrieved from the same household by rescue workers in Ban Ton Khanoon.
Twelve people were still missing as of last night. The number of injured was not yet known.
Uttaradit governor Yothin Samuttarakhiri said rescue workers, soldiers, police and medics have set up combined emergency units in the devastated villages.
Relief supplies were being delivered by military helicopters, as roads were impassable.
Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit ordered emergency workers to locate the missing within 24 hours.
In Ayutthaya, Public Health Minister Witthaya Buranasiri and permanent secretary for public health Paijit Warachit yesterday failed to convince 75-year-old blind man Phat Khuansomthop to leave his flooded house in Bang Ban district for his own safety.
The man lived alone and insisted on staying despite the first floor of his house being under two metres of water.
Her Majesty the Queen asked Ayutthaya provincial administration about Mr Phat, prompting the officials to try to help him.
While they were leaving the house, however, the boat which Dr Paijit was travelling on with another public health officer and a rower capsized. The three suffered minor injuries and their mobile phones and documents were damaged.
Mr Witthaya said flood conditions have made the presence of snakes more common, and with more people being bitten, the ministry has begun stocking more anti-venom serum.In Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya district, 85-year-old Boonchuen Bangbamnet drowned after his tugboat capsized in a whirlpool in the Chao Phraya River in front of Wat Phanan Choeng Worawihan.
His wife Thongsuk, 83, was rescued by members of the public.
In Suphan Buri's Bang Pla Ma district, about 367 families living in the Talat Kao Hong community were yesterday evacuated after their homes were flooded.
The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department issued flood and mudslide warnings to mountain-side residents in Trat and Chanthaburi.

Mortgage rice scheme is launched

Govt vows to foot bill if disputed plan fails

The National Rice Policy Committee has approved the controversial rice mortgage scheme which will ensure prices for farmers of up to 20,000 baht per tonne - about 5,000 baht a tonne above the current market price.
However, the government promised Friday it would take responsibility if the scheme is a financial disaster, which some experts have said may cost up to 100 billion baht.
NRPC chairwoman Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra approved the scheme and it will be implemented from Oct 7 until Feb 29 next year.
Related: Protecting rice fields from floods
The price for fragrant Hom Mali paddy rice was set at 20,000 baht per tonne, while premium white paddy rice will fetch 15,000 baht.
White paddy rice will fetch between 14,800 baht and 13,800 baht per tonne.
The mortgage price of short-seed glutinous paddy is 16,000 baht per tonne and 18,000 baht for long-seed.
The current market price for Hom Mali rice is about 15,000 baht per tonne and white paddy is between 9,500 and 11,500 baht per tonne.
"It's not true what some are saying, that the scheme will cost the government more than 100 billion baht," said Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.
Economist Ammar Siamwalla, from the Thailand Development Research Institute, recently criticised the rice mortgage scheme.
"This government will take responsibility if there is a loss from the scheme," Mr Kittiratt said.
Mr Kittiratt insisted the government is willing to buy all rice production, some 25 million tonnes, and mortgaged rice will be sold at an appropriate time to repay loans from the Agriculture and Agricultural Co-Operatives Bank which will finance the scheme.
He declined to specify the value of the loans that will be granted, or to whom they will go.
"The public should not be concerned about the loans because rice will enter the market gradually and this will give the government time to manage the loans appropriately," he said.
To ensure transparency, the NRPC has established six sub-committees to monitor production, marketing, mortgage procedures, provincial mortgage processes, the selling of mortgaged rice, and examination and inspection.
Mr Kittiratt added the government will work closely with the private sector to allow the normal function of rice traders.
"We will do our best but it does not have to be 100% perfect for the programme to be considered successful. If anything does not go as we had hoped, I'm sure it won't be because of negligence," he said.
He added the programme will help farmers more effectively compared to the rice insurance programme of the previous government.
"There are many good things about the insurance programme but the main issue was the premium payment via the insurance was too little to help farmers," Mr Kittiratt said.
The rice mortgage scheme has raised concerns among Asean consumers.
"This just shows how correct we are in pushing for self-sufficiency," said Proceso Alcala, agriculture secretary for the Philippines, which is the world's top rice importer.
The country's National Food Authority is assessing likely demand for rice from other Southeast Asian countries for 2012 and subsequent years to get a clearer picture of whether Thailand can maintain high prices or if "natural market forces will get them to reconsider the plan", said its administrator Lito Banayo.
Mr Banayo said if local rice growing targets are met, the Philippines would need to import only 1 million tonnes or less for next year - about the same amount bought for this year's stocks.Sutarto Alimoeso, chief of Indonesia's state logistics agency, said the Thai scheme is a challenge to Indonesian farmers to improve their productivity. The agency, known as Bulog, is importing 300,000 tonnes from Thailand and 500,000 tonnes from Vietnam for stockpiles.

Thaksin review looks unlikely

Experts say no grounds to revive Ratchada case

There is little chance of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra getting a fresh judicial review of his 2008 conviction for abuse of power, say legal experts.
About 200 members of the Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land gather yesterday at Bangkok’s Lumpini Park to protest against moves by the ruling Pheu Thai Party to push for an amnesty for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. PATIPAT JANTHONG
Thaksin was convicted of abuse of power in 2008 for helping his then wife Potjaman Na Pombejra buy land in the Ratchadaphisek area. He fled Thailand after his conviction, was sentenced to two years' jail in absentia, and has remained overseas since.
Jetsada Anujaree, of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, doubted the Civil Court's nullification of the Ratchadapisek land deal is good enough for the Supreme Court to revive the case.
He said the law governing judicial review requires applications for reviews to be based on "fresh" evidence.
Mr Jetsada said the land deal was cancelled because Thaksin was found guilty of abuse of authority.
"The law allows him to apply for a review but there is little chance of the case being revived. The land deal cancellation isn't new evidence," he said.
He also noted that even if an application is filed, the evidence itself must first be examined and verified as new.
"You can't expect a review to start immediately because you say you have new evidence or witnesses," he said.
Another legal expert, who asked not to be identified, agreed the former prime minister did not seem to have the basis to seek a review.
He said the Supreme Court had given its opinion concerning the land deal when it handed down the guilty verdict.
"Unless there is evidence Thaksin did not consent to the purchase, the case may not be revived," said the expert.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, himself a legal expert, said Thaksin has the right to reopen the Ratchadaphisek land case under the Reopening of Criminal Cases Act.
It is up to the court to deliberate on the rights of affected parties.
Meanwhile, a committee set up by the justice minister to help him handle a petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin met yesterday to outline its work.
Thongthong Chandarangsu, a committee member, said the panel set three points to focus on at this stage.
They are whether the petition supporters are eligible to seek amnesty; if the petition is lodged properly; and which laws or traditional practices should be taken into consideration.
Mr Thongthong said it is too early to tell if Articles 259 and Article 260 of the Criminal Procedure Code would be considered. Those articles relate to the seeking of an amnesty as it applies in Thaksin's case.
Panel members were free from political pressure. Mr Thongthong said the committee did not set a timeframe for the petition screening process.
It will meet again in two weeks, he added.
Pheu Thai MP and red shirt leader Natthawut Saikua welcomed the setting up of the committee to examine the petition.
He said that the red shirts considered it progress, and they would not pressure the government to rush the matter.
"We want the government to proceed but we aren't saying it has to be done right now," he said.
"The matter is now being reviewed by the Justice Ministry and that's progress."
The Civil Network against Thaksin's Corruption Pardon held a rally at Lumpini park yesterday to protest against the government's action to seek an amnesty for Thaksin.
"This government is working only for ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, without taking into account the people's interests," said Tul Sitthisomwong, the network coordinator.
The group was also joined by members of the Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land who called for protection of the monarchy.

Station heads moved in casino scandal

Three chiefs to serve one month at bureau

Three senior Bangkok police officers have been transferred to inactive posts following MP Chuvit Kamolvisit's exposure of illegal casinos in the city.
Metropolitan Police Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Jakthip Chaijinda signed an order on Thursday to temporarily transfer three top station officers to assist work at the bureau for 30 days and appoint three other officers to serve as acting chiefs at those stations, said a source at the MPB. The order took effect yesterday.
The officers transferred are Pol Col Samarn Rodkamnerd, chief of Phaya Thai police station, Pol Col Veera Jiraveera, chief of Tao Pun station, and Pol Col Adisak Khunnapan, chief of Bang Yi Khan station.
The three officers appointed are Pol Col Vicharnvat Borrirakkul, deputy chief of the MPB's division 1, who will serve as acting chief of Phaya Thai station, Pol Col Charoen Srisaluck, deputy MPB's division 2, who will become acting chief of Tao Pun station, and Pol Col Chavalit Prasopsil, deputy chief of division 7, who will become acting chief of Bang Yi Khan police station.
Earlier, Mr Chuvit, leader of the Rak Thailand Party and an opposition MP, presented video clips showing a casino in operation in the city.
He played the videos during the government policy debate in parliament which started on Aug 23.
The list MP alleged the casino, on Ratchadaphisek Road, belonged to some senior police.
It operated in an area under the jurisdiction of the Sutthisan police station and Metropolitan Police Division 2. The MPB earlier transferred four senior police to inactive posts following Mr Chuvit's exposure of illegal gambling operations.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung yesterday maintained that he would not allow the buying of positions in any police reshuffles.
Mr Chalerm yesterday outlined his policy to 1,400 senior police nationwide at the Police Club on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. He was greeted by acting police chief Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong.
Mr Chalerm said his Pheu Thai Party has never used officials as political tools.
Pol Gen Priewpan said he was waiting for a report from a panel investigating allegations of illegal gambling dens in Sutthisan police station's jurisdiction. The panel is chaired by police inspector-general Sathaporn Laothong.
He would decide what action to take based on the report's findings.
Pol Gen Priewpan said that teams of police would be sent to round up any remaining gambling dens in areas under the jurisdiction of Phaya Thai, Tao Pun and Bang Yi Khan police stations following the transfer of the three station chiefs.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Libya rebel leader 'tortured by CIA' in Thailand

Abdel Hakim Belhaj aka Abu Abdullah
al-Sadiq (AFP Photo)

A trove of security documents discovered after the fall of Tripoli reveal details of the West's efforts to turn Libya's mercurial leader Moammar Gadhafi from foe to ally.
They also provide an embarrassing example of the US administration's collaboration with authoritarian regimes in the war on terror.

They also offer a glimpse into the inner workings of the now-defunct CIA program of extraordinary rendition, through which terror suspects were secretly detained, sent to third countries and sometimes underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation tactics like waterboarding.

The documents mention a half dozen names of people targeted for rendition, including Tripoli's new rebel military commander, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj - and his connection with Thailand.

Mr Belhaj is the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a now-dissolved militant organisation that sought to assassinate Gadhafi. Its links with al-Qaeda remain unknown.

Mr Belhaj said he holds no grudge. Nato airstrikes have helped the rebels advance throughout the six-month civil war and continue to target regime forces as rebels hunt for Gadhafi.

CIA agents tortured him in a secret prison in Thailand before he was returned to Libya and locked in the notorious Abu Salim prison. He insists he was never a terrorist and believes his arrest was in reaction to what he called the "tragic events of 9/11."

Two documents from March 2004 show American and Libyan officials arranging Belhaj's rendition.

The documents said he and his pregnant wife were due to travel to Thailand, where they would be detained.

"We are planning to arrange to take control of the pair in Bangkok and place them on our aircraft for a flight to your country," they tell the Libyans.

The memo also requested that Libya, a country known for decades for torture and ill-treatment of prisoners: "Please be advised that we must be assured that al-Sadiq (actually Belhaj) will be treated humanely and that his human rights will be respected."

The other part of the story was revealed in 2004, at the time of his detention.

Back then, Mr Balhaj called himself Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq when Malaysian authorities apprehended him trying to enter the country through the Kuala Lumpur airport. He later claimed this was his nom de guerre (war name).

His arrest was not publicised in 2004, but was well known in the region. He was detained as part of an extensive and coordinated clampdown on terrorists and sympathisers in Singapore, Malaysia and especially Indonesia after the Bali nightclub bombings in October, 2002.

At the time, it was reported that Mr Balhaj was deported across the border by Malaysia, and immediately arrested by Thai authorities.

Neither his fate nor departure from Thailand was publicly revealed, but anti-terrorist sources said that he had been sent out of Thailand after a short time.

Mr Belhaj claims he was taken to a so-called CIA prison and interrogated. He claimed he was tortured by US agents, but has given no details.

In Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment on Mr. Belhaj or his new role. A State Department official said the Obama administration was aware of Islamist backgrounds among the rebel fighters in Libya and had expressed concern to the Transitional National Council, the new rebel government, and that it had received assurances.

Libya now illustrates realpolitik. As the United States and other Western powers embrace and help finance the new government taking shape in Libya, they could face a particularly awkward relationship with Islamists like Mr. Belhaj.

Once considered enemies in the war on terror, they suddenly have been thrust into positions of authority - with American and Nato blessing.

Wary gamblers let it roll over the border

Gamblers fearful of an announced crackdown on illegal gambling dens in Bangkok have been causing the cash registers to sing in Cambodian casinos over the past two days.

Thais have been arriving by the busload at border checkpoints in Sa Kaeo and Surin provinces, seeking to cross into Cambodia. There are 10 casinos opposite Sa Kaeo, and two opposite Surin.

The exodus of gamblers comes on the heels of an announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung on Thursday that he would get tough with more than 40 illicit casinos in central Bangkok.

Mr Chalerm's announcement followed Rak Thailand Party leader Chuvit Kamolvisit's airing of a video clip in parliament of a large casino in full operation on Ratchadaphisek Road.

Crutchley: All bets are off ... well, for a week or so

Voranai Vanijaka: In the immortal words of Charlie Bronson, 'No dice'

A source at the border said the announced crackdown in Bangkok has resulted in a windfall for Cambodian casinos.

The 10 casinos in Poipet, opposite Sa Kaeo, are popular with Thais, who enter Cambodia through the Ban Khlong Luek checkpoint in Aranyaprathet district.

The casinos are mainly joint ventures between Cambodian businesses and foreign partners, including Thai businesspeople and politicians, a military border source said.

Most casinos - Holiday Palace, Golden Crown Club, Grand Diamond City, Princess Crown, Holiday Poipet, Star Vegas and Club, Tropicana Resort and Casino, Howah Genting Casino, Poipet Resort and Club and Star King - provide shuttle buses and vans to and from Bangkok.

Casino customers are charged an initial fare, which is later "refunded" in the form of gambling chips of equivalent value.

The vans and buses are operated by nine tour companies, mostly based in Bangkok, the source said.

The buses and vans run different routes and make stops at several pickup points in and around Bangkok before heading to the border.

Once at the border, customers without passports are issued immigration clearance papers, which are valid for one day. They cannot stay overnight at the casinos.

The source said large border casinos generate between 13-15 billion baht a year in revenue and smaller ones about 500-700 million baht a year.

In Surin, the number of people crossing the Chong Jom border to visit Osamed in Cambodia, where two casinos are located, has more than doubled over the past two days.

Around 3,000 crossed the border yesterday, and the same number passed through on Thursday. This is double the average of about 1,500 people per day on those days, a local source said.

Wattana Chuenyong, manager of the Chong Jom Border Market, said yesterday alone, more than 5,000 people visited the market.

"The market feels very small today," he said.

Meanwhile, 62% of respondents across the country surveyed by the National Institute of Development Administration said the police in respective jurisdictions must face the music for allowing the illegal casinos to operate.

Also, 23% said they had known of gambling dens operating near their homes.

The latest survey also showed 61% disagreed with legalising gambling in Thailand.