PHUKET: Three tourists who were badly wounded in a brawl at a Phuket nightclub aim to push for action to be taken against their attackers on Phuket, and to demand that the Australian Government issues a warning about random violence on the holiday island.
One of the men spoke out for the first time yesterday after returning to Australia.
Steve Balzary, who was celebrating his 50th birthday when the attack took place at Patong's Rock City early last Monday, said he believed the assault by between 10 and 15 locals was a planned ''farang lynching'' - the term coined by Phuket expats for a premeditated thrill assault on expat tourists (farang).
The attack on Mr Balzary, his son Michael and a famous friend came just weeks after Phuket Police Commander, Major General Chonsit Wadhnawarangkun ordered all Phuket venue owners to prevent violence and to take responsibility for the actions of their staff.
Major General Chonsit's order followed a vicious attack with a homemade axe on a Phuket resort owner-manager. Eight men - all staff at a pub that was open after hours in Phuket City - have been arrested and are likely to face attempted murder charges over the attack on Vorasit ''Wan'' Issara.
But so far, only one man has been arrested - and allowed bail for a relatively minor charge - in relation to the attack on the three Australians.
''We think between 10 and 15 men carried out a planned attack on us,'' Mr Balzary said yesterday by telephone from Canberra, the Australian capital, where he lives.
''They hit us with bar stools and at least one knife was used,'' Mr Balzary said. ''Four or five men gathered around each of us, then jumped us. Our wounds are consistent with us being attacked from behind.
''Having been hit over the head from behind, I thought I was as good as dead. Given the severity of our wounds, four or five of those men should be facing attempted murder charges.''
Mr Balzary, a business owner and consultant, is a regular traveller to Asia and has enjoyed Phuket holidays in the past.
''My family and I never realised until the attack how dangerous Phuket could be,'' he said. ''We thought it was a safe, peaceful place. I reckon Patong is on a par now with Manila, where you venture out carefully because of the risk of unprovoked random attacks.''
Mr Balzary said he believed the man from the Rock City nightclub who was charged concocted a tale that the Australians spat at a female staff member and danced on the speakers to cover up the real crime - a premeditated attack on the three men, from behind.
One of Mr Balzary's sons was also bashed from behind while a third Australian, a friend who achieved nationwide fame as a footballer, now needs plastic surgery to his face. Mr Balzary believes his friend was struck in the face with a broken glass.
Another of Mr Balzary's sons had been taking photographs during the birthday night out, but was in the toilet when the attack took place. Mr Balzary believes his attackers waited until his son was no longer taking photographs before carrying out their attack.
''It was a pleasant night out until then,'' Mr Balzary said. ''We weren't binge drinking, nothing like that, just having a good time. We started dancing to the band when we first arrived there, and some other expats started dancing as well.''
About 1.45am, Mr Balzary saw four or five men surrounding his son. He walked over to ask what was going on - and was jumped himself by as many as four or five men, he says.
''I just got whacked over the head with something hard and metal,'' he said. ''I got up and was whacked again.''
Mr Balzary had about 20 stitches at Patong Hospital in a head wound, and about 20 more in an arm wound that he believes was probably caused by a knife.
A tuk-tuk driver eventually agreed to transport the injured Australians to hospital, for a 1000 baht fare.
''The people at the hospital were fantastic,'' Mr Balzary said. ''And when the owner of the place where we were staying heard what had happened, she was furious about what it means for Patong's reputation.
''Like many other people in the tourism industry, she knows how important it is for Patong to not gain a reputation for needless violence.''
Police officers went to the hospital and asked the Australians to visit Kathu Police Station the following day at 10am. ''We eventually got to talk to an officer about two hours later,'' Mr Balzary said.
He has already spoken to a lawyer on Phuket and intends to write to the Phuket Police Commander and Australia's Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd.
''We have had such a good time on Phuket in the past, as a family group, that I was thinking about buying a villa up behind Patong,'' Mr Balzary said.
''We had no idea that there was this kind of random violence. The potential is, of course, for someone to get killed. We think these people have done this kind of thing before.
''It's certainly noticeable to me that the people in Patong have become more aggressive and assertive since my last visit 18 months ago. This trip, we went out of our way to find non-aligned tuk-tuk drivers because the others are not very pleasant.
''People are becoming so scared that visitors are being advised to only go to bars run by Australians. We didn't want to go to bars like that, we wanted to enjoy the local experience.
''To me, a bar or nightclub where this kind of thing happens should be automatically shut down for a week or more. (Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha closed the Phuket City bar for 90 days after the axe attack.)
''There should be a register for security staff at night venues. And training is needed so that security staff know how to intervene to keep the peace if necessary, not carry out severe retribution.
''In our case, there was nothing we did that was cause for violence of any kind. Three of us were badly wounded. One man was arrested, then bailed. That doesn't seem right.''
He warned all tourists visiting Patong to stay away from ''any place with four walls.''
''In the open-air bars you can see and be seen,'' he said. ''Once you go behind closed doors in Patong, anything can happen.''