Lets Go Everywhere

Good luck Thailand!
December 23, 2007, 5:51 am
Filed under: army, bangkok, coup, expat, free press, politics, thailand, Uncategorized

Last year I moved to Bangkok and took up a job at a news magazine two weeks before the government was overthrown in a coup d’etat.

Needless to say, despite the inconvenience of having troops surround my office building, the declaration of martial law and a few deadly explosions in the city centre, the military takeover was kind of a kick.

Now the people are getting ready to elect the ousted PM’s replacement, possibly to result in mass demonstrations in Bangkok and more political fuckery. Add the fact that the country’s beloved king is ailing and his successor is widely detested and you’ve got a tough situation on the horizon.

People of Thailand, I wish you the best. Khaaw hai chohk dee gap thook sing thee ja thahm khaang naa!

Thailand holds first post-coup election

BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed, exiled and allegedly corrupt, was poised for a comeback-by-proxy as his loyalists looked likely to win Thailand’s national election Sunday.

Mr. Thaksin, ousted from power by a bloodless military coup 15 months ago, may also come back in person early next year, sparking fears of political turbulence and sharp polarization which has already plagued Thailand for two years.

The election, which is supposed to restore democracy after the coup, comes after almost two years of intense political instability that began with popular demonstrations demanding that Mr. Thaksin step down because of alleged corruption and abuse of power. The protest culminated in the coup.

The Election Commission has been barraged by more than 700 complaints of election fraud, mostly related to vote-buying. The night before elections is popularly called the “night of the howling dogs,” as canvassers knock on doors to distribute last-minute cash for votes in rural areas.

Thai election

Latest news can be found at The Nation


There’s Nothing Nice About Martial Law

Thai leaders to relax martial law


Thailand’s military chiefs have recommended that martial law imposed after the 19 September coup be lifted in parts of the country.

The decision would affect about 40 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, coup leader and army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said.

Martial law has been in place since the bloodless coup, which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The decision will now be submitted to the cabinet for approval.

“Everybody wants to see peace and order in our country and the lifting of martial law will have a positive political and psychological impact,” Gen Sonthi said.

But he said the measures will remain in place in the troubled southern provinces, and in areas of the north and northeast, where support for Mr Thaksin is strongest.

Gen Sonthi said Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont could decided what to do about Bangkok.

“If we lift martial law and something happens, the prime minister will be held primarily responsible,” the French news agency AFP quoted him as saying.

Few protests

The new government has struggled to gain international recognition, not least because of its refusal to end the martial law, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

But in practice few Thais have felt the restrictions, which have been applied sparingly.

Soldiers are still posted outside television stations in Bangkok, around 300 radio stations in rural areas have been forced to stop broadcasting, and political parties have been banned from holding large-scale meetings.

There have been relatively few protests against martial law – in fact the more widely-heard complaint against the new government is over its failure to come up with a convincing case against the former prime minister for corruption or abuses of power.

Still, the fact that martial law will remain in place in pro-Thaksin areas suggests the military is still nervous about a possible come-back by the former prime minister, who has been touring a number of nearby countries recently in a blaze of media publicity, our correspondent adds.

Monks & Tanks

It’s about time! The bad news is that Bangkok is not included.
That means it’s still illegal to gather in groups of 5 or more for a political purpose, hold rallies or broadcast news independently. However, it is legal to detain people without a warrant and without having to press charges. Hmmm.

The atmosphere is so friendly and the people so warm-hearted it’s easy to forget that the Thai government has been capable of some nasty things. Thaksin’s war against drug dealers (how many thousands dead at the hands of trigger happy police?), the southern insurgency and response (dozens suffocating in a truck for the crime of attending a rally while Muslim), historic brutal military suppression, and of course, at least one secret CIA prison — possibly for extracting information via torture.

Of course, no government is perfect. They all have blood on their hands and policies that shame their citizens, except perhaps Switzerland. I love the jai dee of the Thai people so much, and for this reason hope that martial law is entirely lifted and some form of representative democracy is restored as soon as possible.

Since I mentioned jai dee, a translation of which you can find further down somewhere, I’d like to add I noticed a picture on the Thai newswire of a demostration held in Bangkok not long ago. The demostration was against the death penalty (a brutal and frequently used punishment here) and there were six or seven young people dressed in black holding signs that called for an end to the practice. I was so impressed to see it… not only because these people were defying martial law and protesting a political policy… they were also opening eyes about an issue that gets very little play in Asia. The death penalty is not often discussed or thought about, so it’s great to see people questioning its value and usefulness. I’ll track down the photo tomorrow and post it here.

Good work protest kids, keep it up!!

***UPDATE Two Thai men who murdered tourist Katherine Horton have had their death sentences commuted to life in jail.

US citizens on trial in Saigon


US citizens on trial in Vietnam


Vietnamese prosecutors have accused the group of terrorism

Three US citizens and four Vietnamese have gone on trial in Vietnam charged with terrorism. They are accused of attempting to set up illegal transmitters to make anti-communist radio broadcasts inside the country.

Correspondents says the case may complicate ties with the US ahead of President George W Bush’s visit next week and a Congressional vote on trade. The trial in Ho Chi Minh City is expected to last no more than a day.

All of the seven defendants are of Vietnamese origin, but three – Nguyen Thuong Cuc, also known as Cuc Foshee, Huynh Bich Lien and Le Van Binh – also have US citizenship.

Local press reports have linked them to a California-based anti-communist organisation called the Government of Free Vietnam. They are alleged to have brought transmitters and other equipment into Vietnam from neighbouring Cambodia.

They were hoping to take over local radio stations and broadcast anti-government radio messages, according to the BBC correspondent in Hanoi, Bill Hayton.

The case is being heard exactly a week before President Bush arrives in Vietnam to attend the annual Asia-Pacific summit (Apec). It may also complicate scheduled votes in the US Congress intended to permanently normalise trade relations between America and Vietnam, our correspondent says.

Senator Mel Martinez from Florida, the home state of one of the accused, has threatened to block the bill because of the case. That would be an embarrassment to both governments, which have heralded the bill as symbolising their new partnership.

If found guilty of terrorism, the accused could face sentences ranging from 12 years in jail to the death penalty. The Vietnamese government is currently trying to extradite a man it calls the leader of the plot, Nguyen Huu Chanh, from South Korea.

An earlier attempt failed. Mr Chanh was one of the founders of the Government of Free Vietnam.


Government of Free Viet Nam website (probably not accessible from within Viet Nam, but get the scoop here: Wiki article)

The Government of Free Vietnam is an anti-communist paramilitary and political organization that was established on April 30, 1995, by its founder Nguyen Hoang Dan. Its headquarters are in Garden Grove, California. The organization’s goal is to remove the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, either politically or militarily.

The Government of Free Vietnam claims 6,000 members and 100,000 supporters who were trained in secret camp locations along the Vietnamese/Cambodian border. They also claim 75 chapters in Asia, Australia, and Europe. Although the GFVN prides itself on its widespread support, many argue that the GFVN never received a true mandate to represent the Vietnamese diaspora.

They have a base of operations in KC-702, a secret base along the border between Vietnam and Cambodia.

Hoa Binh

pardon my french
October 15, 2006, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Afghanistan, army, Canada, empires, freedom, News and politics, Uncategorized

rant on

I’ve been asked a few times why I’m not freelancing for Canadian/North American publications.

At first, I questioned it myself. Was it a sort of defect? Laziness? I seriously doubted it was laziness, since when I was in Vietnam I was editing the majority of a thick tourist mag as well as working for the daily paper. And here in Bangkok, I’m at the office until at the earliest 6:30 every night. I supposed I could go out on weekends and talk to people, attend the few protest rallies against the coup, etc. but to be honest I don’t have a valid work visa yet and I don’t particularly want to be expelled by the kingdom (or shot by some trigger-happy zitfaced teen soldier).

More importantly though, my issue with the “why aren’t you freelancing in the west” question is that these days it strikes me as a little bit racist. Not in the big, nasty scary racist way, but in the way that assumes that Western press is more prestigious or important. I can’t say I’ve developed much insight in my time in southeast Asia, but what I am beginning to see are the signs of a declining (American) empire and a rising ‘third world’ empire. The new power may be China, India, maybe even Japan, who knows, it could be a stark raving mad Kim Jong-il armed to the teeth with atom bombs and high heels. Whoever it is, in the next few centuries the world will belong to the east.

People may be shocked at the assertion that the west is on the decline. While the economic and capital flow eastward is a little easier to perceive, it’s the power flow that’s barely perceptible but oh so important.

For all the violence committed in the name of money, resources, political favours, all I can say is “you reap what you sow.” The damage done, by all parties and governments and armed groups since January 17, 1961, the day Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the world of linking industry and wealth with war, is scandalous plain and simple.
The rampant exploitation of land, corrupt governments, ongoing denials of basic human rights, torture and secret prisons are all landmines on any road to co-existing peacefully.

Or have we given that up as option by now?

Without peace and security, the economy can’t thrive and there will eventually be civil unrest. If nations don’t pursue peace and security as long term policies and instead work against it for gain, well, what is sown will be reaped. And sadly the victims will be innocent citizens already cheated by their governments.

Speaking of living peace to spread peace, we need Canadian troops focused on rebuilding Afghanistan’s schools, hospitals and roads, doing beneficial work while protecting the civilans. I’m all for our special ops forces doing their work wherever it sends them, but there are approximately 19,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan so why do we keep hearing about Canadians fighting and dying in the frontlines? If Canada hadn’t been willing to send troops to Afghanistan maybe it would have put another obstacle in the path of George Bush’s march to war. But that’s another issue.

rant off

Suck it Sukhumvit
September 24, 2006, 5:29 am
Filed under: army, bangkok, coup, expat, free press, freedom, media, politics, protests, Uncategorized

I saw the first soldiers in my neighbourhood, a very quiet semi-residential area off Phra Khanong and Rama IX Road. Two pimply-faced teenagers carrying assault rifles and roses walking down the alley.
The Nation reported yesterday that protesters gathered downtown at Siam Centre carrying banners that read “No To Coups” and other slogans. The protesters claimed to be anti-Thaksin and anti-coup, and they called for those opposed to the coup to wear black, or carry black banners. There were no arrests, however, that could have been because there were at least a hundred foreign and local journalists covering the demo. The army did say they had videotaped the gathering and would analyse it to see if the protesters violated the ban on groups of more than 5 people for a political purpose. Obviously, there were more than 5 people there so we’ll have to wait and see if the army takes action. My money’s on ‘no’ but I’m an optimist.

One thing I have noticed is there have been no elephants on the streets since Tuesday. Coincidence? I think not. Anti-democracy is one thing, but anti-elephant??? They’ve gone too far.

smiling soldiers
September 21, 2006, 4:21 am
Filed under: army, bangkok, coup, expat, free press, freedom, News and politics, protests, Uncategorized

yet another normal day at work and in the city, with the addition of
several more soldiers outside the Nation offices. downtown women are
buying yellow roses and flowers (yellow being the colour representing
the king) and offering them to soldiers. to be perfectly honest, i
like king bhumibol very much, but his endorsement of the coup leaves
me with mixed emotions.
the thais like to say that foreigners will never understand their politics, but truthfully, it’s not nearly as clever or complex as
they’d like to think. vote-buying is rampant in the countryside (where
thaksin’s power base is located) and votes are bought for literally a
few hundre Baht, or less than US$10.
it’s especially confusing since elections were planned for little more
than two months from now. thaksin would have won (thanks to his
populist platform and rural vote-buying) and protests likely would’ve
turned violent if pro and anti-thaksin factions collided.
so, while the coup probably averted violence, it left a lot of people
here with a bad taste in their mouth. people from north america just
aren’t used to seeing power change hands at the barrel of a gun.
thaksin had to go, but it’s too bad it all had to come down to this.
so, all to say everything is calm and normal in the city and there’s
nothing to worry about at all.
as for north america, i urged my family to stay away from washington and new york city for the time being. it probably sounds silly, but
al-jeezera and other middle estern news agencies are running
continuous warnings for muslims to leave those two cities in the run
up to another major attack. it could just be a scare tactic, but it
seems likely that there will be another strike and this one could
include a dirty bomb. i find it very sad that all the people who are
agitating against the us’ foreign policy and war will be the ones
silenced by yet another attack on america. the right wing will simply
have their mandate upped and the peace movement will be destroyed.
when i was leaving the office last night a young
soldier stopped me just to smile and try out a ‘hello’ in english. where else but in thailand?


September 20, 2006, 6:22 am
Filed under: army, bangkok, coup, free press, freedom, media, News and politics, protests, Uncategorized

Coup leaders move to censor media, ban public gatherings

Coup leaders Wednesday moved to censor the media and banned public gatherings as part of measures meant to ensure public order. Strict controls were slapped on foreign and domestic media, state television announced, that allowed the communications ministry to block” disinformation” deemed harmful to a provisional military council now in control of the country. Security forces reportedly seized media transmission facilities. Public gatherings of more than five people is banned, violators could be jailed for six months. The council also outlawed stockpiling of goods by vendors, and said anyone caught raising the costs of their goods could be jailed for two years, according to the announcement. Coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said earlier Wednesday the military had to seize power in order to unite the nation after months of political turmoil.

 -The Nation