PHUKET: At long last, after years of subtle thuggery and not so subtle terror, Phuket's taxi and tuk-tuk fears emerged into the open today.
In response, the message was delivered and it was plain: the game is over. Phuket taxi ''mafia,'' your time is up.
The holiday island has had enough of fear, intimidation and extortion. Phuket's officials, law enforcement officers and businesspeople are starting a new era.
They are learning to stare down the faceless taxi menace. The beginning of the end came today in one conversation.
Here's how the chat went around a table in Starbucks at Central Festival Phuket shopping mall:
Taxi queue founder and village chief Anucha Eakwanit: ''If there are talks, the drivers will need to be involved. All the drivers in the Central Festival queue will have a say in what happens next.''
Phuket Land Transport Department specialist Jaturong Keawkasisaid: ''No they will not. It is time to have some rules set for all of Phuket.''
Khun Anucha: ''But this is a democracy . . . ''
Khun Jaturong: ''Sorry pu yai but that's not acceptable any more. The decisions will no longer be made by the drivers. Central Festival management will photograph and register them all.''
Central Festival Operations Manager, Preecha Ritthiratree: ''I'm concerned about my safety. They have guns. We are concerned about our safety.''
Phuket Vice Governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada: ''We will support you. We are going to do this everywhere on Phuket, not just at Central Festival.''
Department of Special Investigation Major Natapol Diisayatham: ''I will be beside you. Do not worry.''
Khun Preecha: ''I worry that you will only be here for the first few days, then you will leave us with a problem.''
Major Natapol: ''You have my word . . .''
MANY ISSUES lie ahead for a Phuket solution but the Starbucks conversation today appeared to be a good start.
Tomorrow a fesh meeting will be held at Phuket's Land Transport Department offices. Included at that round-table meeting will be two surprise new guests, Pom Sukkasem, 42, and his brother, Sern, 52.
Although the two men are now on bail facing extortion and intimidation charges following their arrest at the weekend, Khun Pom remains chief of the Central Festival taxi rank.
It should be an interesting meeting.
Developments this week with the DSI's arrest of the brothers and today's Starbucks conversation have been greeted as a sign of real hope by Phuket's Thai and expat communities.
Larry Cunningham, who at the end of September finishes eight years as the honorary consul for Australia, said today: ''I'm extremely encouraged by these developments.
''There were certainly plenty of people who doubted that the DSI were genuine when they came to Phuket and so quickly issued their list of 11 Phuket suspects.
''After years of calling out for change on Phuket, it seems as though some genuine attempts are being made to fix the enormous problems that have been allowed to fester.
''This is a marvellous start. We can only take a deep breath and hope the good news keeps on coming.''