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Uniformed presence will need to be kept low-key on Phuket

Phuket Asean Clamp Unnecessary: Red Shirt

Friday, July 3, 2009
PHUKET'S leading red-shirt has questioned the need for the Internal Security Act to be imposed for this month's Asean Regional Forum.

Wisut Tangwitayaporn says that a ''declaration of a state of emergency'' could frighten tourists away.

''Phuket has just encouraged tourists from China to return to the island,'' he said. ''Now the government is going to invoke the Internal Security Act.

''Why are they so worried?''

He said the local red-shirts, who support disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had already promised Governor Wichai Praisa-nob that they would not mount protests during the important series of week-long meetings involving 27 nations.

A decision on the final form of the special conditions on Phuket between July 10-July27 is expected to be made at a Cabinet meeting in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Khun Wisut said that a heavy-handed military presence on the island was not required and the money could be better spend on health or education.

The Governor told Phuketwan that the military presence during the period almost certain to be covered by the ISA would be low-key, designed to not interfere with tourism, and unlikely to be projected by the media as if the island was overrun by men in uniform.

The declaration would only apply to six sub-districts within a five kilometre radius of the Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, where most meetings will be held, and the Phuket International Airport.

A second, tighter security ring at a three kilometre-radius will also be applied.

People travelling across the island will be stopped and vehicles checked at both the five-kilometre and three-kilometre marks.

The outer checks will probably be made by police, the inner checks by police and the army, with the army in control inside the inner circle.

Governor Wichai hopes to have the Asean leaders' summit, postponed after a red-shirt invasion in Pattaya in April, rescheduled to Phuket in October.

He has initiated a ''thousand eyes of the pineapple'' campaign to alert locals to look for suspicious behavior and extracted a promise from village chiefs that there will be no street protests of any kind during the Asean meetings.

Phuket tourism industry leaders say the July and October meetings are likely to help the island's cash flow problems.

But will they provide a boost for tourism? That really depends on media coverage.

While Phuket's beauty sells itself to cameras, the extracurricular activities are what will count most. Coverage of the Phuket meetings will be the same as coverage of meeting everywhere.

But if the visual grabs and interview backgrounds are scenic and compellingly attractive, then Phuket may gain some viewers as future guests.

Thailand's Government, aware that another security disaster on the Pattaya scale would lead to it being laughed from office, now has the difficult task of balancing two elements: protection and projection.

It does not want Thailand to be seen as a nation where the military has excessive power or an extravagant presence in tourist destinations.

Nor does it wish to allow a handful of radicals to move close enough to the action to disturb proceedings and set back its aim of projecting an increasingly stable image for Thailand.

Once again, if a subtle balance is not achieved, tourism is where the pain will be felt.

Phuket is a yellow-shirt stronghold where red-shirts have only a small representation. With a single road bridge leading onto the island, visitors can be easily monitored.

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Thursday June 20, 2024
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