Archive for August, 2014

August 31, 2014

Lao Activist Defies Authorities And Builds Home on Disputed Land

Lao Activist Defies Authorities And Builds Home on Disputed Land

2014-8-24

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/activist-08252014183142.html

Undeterred by a three-month detention and defying warnings from the authorities, a Lao activist is refusing to vacate land she had occupied for years and which has been identified for a government road expansion project.

Ms. Sivanxay Phommarath

Sivanxay Phommarath said she has begun construction of her house on the contentious plot of land in Khammouane province’s Nhommalath district despite being notified by the government that the area would have to be vacated for expansion of a road near the Nam Theun 2—the country’s largest hydroelectric dam.

Sivanxay, who was detained in 2012 after leading efforts to discuss adequate compensation for villagers affected by the road project, said she will not vacate her land unless the government gives her a comparable plot on which to build a home or a shop to support her family.

Most of her neighbors who have “good connections” with the authorities have left the area after receiving alternative plots of land and financial compensation, she said.

Sivanxay told RFA’s Lao Service that since her release from detention in February last year, the government has yet to respond to her demand, so she decided to build a new home in defiance of an official announcement that the adjacent road would be expanded by 25 meters (80 feet).

“I am building a new house on the lot because the hut I currently live in [often becomes] flooded,” she said, adding that she decided to build close to the road so that she can also run a small shop, despite the fact that the structure lies within the zone earmarked in 2012 for the road project.

“I am still confident that this land is mine because I pay property taxes every year. If I am asked to leave again, I will do so as long as I am compensated according to my previous demand.”

All of the area’s other residents have accepted compensation offers from the government and either moved or say they are ready to do so when the project begins, according to local officials.

It is unclear when the project will break ground, and it may have been stalled due to budget problems, residents say.

Sivanxay said she is confident the authorities are aware that she is building her new home within the project zone “because they drive to work past my house every day.”

She said no one from the local government has spoken to her about taking down the structure, other than to warn her that it is being built too close to the road and needs to be situated more than 25 meters away.

A Nhommalath official told RFA recently that the majority of villagers in the area had already moved and that those who hadn’t were “prepared to move as soon as authorities ask,” except for Sivanxay.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that if Sivanxay refuses to vacate she will lose 25 meters of her land to the road project, and that the remaining plot would provide her, her husband, and their two-year-old child with little room to live.

But Sivanxay said she will hold out because she has not been promised anything better as part of a relocation package.

“Yes, many villagers have moved because they have good connections with the authorities, so they have received good compensation and land,” she said.

“But me? I don’t have a good relationship with the officials, so I won’t get anything as good.”

Seeking compensation

Authorities released Phommarath from detention after she paid a 700,000 kip (U.S. $88) fine and promised that she and her husband Soukphaouane Phommarath would refrain from taking part in any “unlawful” actions.

Sivanxay was detained in October 2012 after she led more than 20 people from Nhommalath district to meet with an unknown person in Savannakhet province the group believed would help them get better compensation for land being taken over by the road expansion.

After finding no one at the planned meeting spot—on a bridge over the Mekong River on the Thai-Lao border—the villagers returned home to Nhommalath but were taken into custody for questioning from authorities on the reason for their trip.

When Sivanxay refused to divulge information about the person she was supposed to meet, she was charged with inciting social disorder and taken to the Khammouane provincial prison on Nov. 19, 2012.

Authorities gave no explanation for her sudden release after being held incommunicado.

She said at the time that the conditions set by the authorities for her release stipulated that she and her husband “will not make any propaganda, incite groups of people to carry out unlawful acts in any way, will be good citizens socially and will not break any Lao laws.”

Since all land in Laos is owned by the state, residents can be forced off their land with little or no compensation as they are pushed out to make room for development projects.

Lawmakers have expressed concern that inadequate land surveys ahead of major development projects have led to a rash of complaints over encroachment on villagers’ land and created a range of environmental problems, according to the state-owned Vientiane Times newspaper.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

August 31, 2014

A Pensacolian’s escape from Laos

A Pensacolian’s escape from Laos

Rob Johnson, Staff Writer | 3:49 p.m. CDT | August 30, 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.pnj.com/story/news/military/2014/08/30/pensacolians-escape-laos/14770195/

Former Vietnam War POW Charles Klusmann of Pensacola has an unusual story: first he was held in supposedly neutral Laos, and he successfully escaped his captors.

hf-charles klusmann 1.jpg

Former POW and escapee Charles Klusmann was honored by ex-combat aviators on the eve of National POW Month.  (Photo: Ben Twingley/btwingley@pnj.com)

The National Naval Aviation Museum is preparing a new exhibit about Klusmann’s adventures to open in September, coinciding with National MIA-POW Recognition Day, traditionally the third Friday in November.

Klusmann, 80, and now a retired Navy captain living in Pensacola, was honored earlier this month by the local chapter of the Daedalians Order, a foundation of former military pilots.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Jerry Unruh toasted Klusmann at the Daedalians event, held at the Pensacola Yacht Club: “I will tell you about it before we raise our glasses. In 1964, Chuck was deployed to the Tonkin Gulf flying missions from the carrier in his F-8 Crusader into Vietnam.”

President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Navy to conduct secret missions into Laos, where guerrilla forces, the Pathet Lao, were fighting the Royal Laotian government forces, who were friendly to the United States even though their country, bordering Vietnam, was officially neutral.

On June 6, 1964, Klusmann’s Crusader, launched from the carrier Kitty Hawk, was hit by ground fire and he parachuted into enemy hands. He was his squadron’s maintenance officer, and as he floated down to the Plain De Jars, he remembers thinking, “That was our best airplane.”

He landed in “the only tree” in sight, and partially dislocated one hip.

In his prison cell he measured the length of the room as 20-something feet, “so I would figure out how many times I would have to walk across to go a mile, and put a mark on the wall. And that’s all I would do. Walk. By the time I got out I figured I had gone 263 miles.”

While as prisoner, his living conditions were stark, typical of those experienced by other POWs during the Vietnam war.

“I was in a woven bamboo hut, plastered with mud, so you could just chip away the mud and see outside. I would peek out through the cracks and see out and get some fresh air.”

Although he was provided food, including turnip soup, there wasn’t much of it. In three months, Klusmann said, his weight dropped to about 130 pounds from 170. “I never did like turnips. I still don’t.”

He hadn’t looked in a mirror while in captivity, and didn’t see himself in a full-length mirror for several days after escaping. “I was shocked. I thought, ‘Wow, you’re skinny.'”

Unlike many other American pilots who were shot down later, and eventually repatriated, Klusmann was in solitary confinement for the first two months and then in a prison camp accompanied by Royal Laotian Army troops who had been captured by the guerillas.

He had little to do but walk in his cell, and worry. “The thing that bothers you most is wondering, ‘When will I get out of this? Will I get out of this?'”

Yet Klusmann wasn’t subjected to the torture endured by many Americans who were in the hands of the Vietnamese. “I got a lot of political lectures. They gave me a lot of literature,” printed in English, “about what good guys they were.”

Much of what the Pathet Lao communicated was political indoctrination, Klusmann said: “Our system is better than your system.”

The Laotian communists surprised Klusmann with their knowledge about the American forces.”They knew a lot about the chain of command, and what ship I was on.” He learned that his captors had a confidential document about the U.S. Pacific command “right down to the squadrons.”

Klusmann escaped by gradually loosening nails in a section of the prison fence on the occasional days when he and the Laotian troops were allowed outside to do their laundry. “It was barbed wire nailed to a wooden post. When we came back with our laundry we’d hang it up to dry and wiggle a nail until it got loose enough so it would pull out and slide back in.”

On Aug. 31, 1964, a rainy night at the prison, Klusmann and two Laotian prisoners opened the fence and ran, unnoticed. “I didn’t hear of anybody me chasing that night. They did later.”

Crossing rice paddies and ducking into clumps of tall grass to hide, pulling numerous leeches off their bodies, the escapees evaded capture for 3½ days, traveling an estimated 25 miles before they encountered friendly Laotian forces at an outpost.

Klusmann flew again, but never returned to duty in Southeast Asia. He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1980. A grandfather of three, he retired with Ellen to Pensacola, where he went to flight school 59 years ago, in 1996.

Soon after his captivity, Klusmann led a humanitarian effort for Laos to raise funds to buy food, clothing and educational supplies, a gesture that still impresses retired Vice Adm. Unruh: “His contribution effort sent seven tons of stuff, primarily for the Laotian children.” He describes Klusmann as “a true American hero.”

At the Daedalians Order event honoring Klusmann earlier this month, the admiral turned to the former POW on the 50th anniversary of his reclaimed freedom, and said, “Chuck, please lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

 

August 30, 2014

East Grinstead boy, 11, swims a mile to give children in Laos books to read

KING OF THE SWIMMERS: Sebastian Green, 11, swam a mile to raise money for books for children in Laos.  Photo by Kevin Shaw

A YOUNG swimmer swam his first mile to raise money for children on the other side of the world.

Sebastian Green completed approximately 64 lengths in the pool at the Kings Centre in East Grinstead on Thursday in support of Books for Laos.

The 11-year-old, now set to join Sackville School, said: “Someone came into my school to talk about the charity and I really wanted to help out. I completed my first mile in the pool and I had a lot of fun doing it.

“I started swimming when I was about three or four and I wasn’t very good at it, but it was always fun. I started to practise more and more, and now I’ve become quite good at it.

His father Ian added: “It’s fair to say his mum and I are about as proud as we could be.”
August 29, 2014

Thailand ex-PM Abhisit murder charge dismissed

BBC News Asia

Thailand ex-PM Abhisit murder charge dismissed

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28962751

Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (centre) arrives at Bangkok criminal court in Bangkok, 12 December 2013
Mr Abhisit was Thailand’s leader during the deadly protests in 2010

A Thai court has dismissed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva linked to a bloody crackdown on protesters in 2010.

Mr Abhisit was Thailand’s leader when anti-government “red-shirt” protesters blockaded Bangkok for 10 weeks.

In the end the military moved to end the stand-off. Over 90 people, mostly civilians, died during the protests.

Mr Abhisit was charged under the previous government, which has since been ousted in a military coup.

The 2010 protesters supported Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister removed by the military in 2006.

It was under his sister, Yingluck, that proceedings were brought against Mr Abhisit.

However, Ms Yingluck’s government – elected in 2011 – was removed in a military coup in May 2014. Earlier this month coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was named prime minister.

Cycle of unrest

The 2010 protests, which took place between early March and mid-May, saw key parts of Bangkok shut down by a “red-shirt” occupation.

Red Shirt supporters of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra chant slogans at a television satellite centre on 9 April 2010 in Bangkok

The “red-shirts” wanted Mr Abhisit’s government to resign

There were several clashes and outbreaks of violence, culminating in the military operation to clear the protesters on 19 May.

Prosecutors said Mr Abhisit and his deputy prime minister at the time, Suthep Thaugsuban, were responsible for authorising the use of live fire against protesters. Both men rejected the charges.

The Criminal Court ruled that it could not hear the case because the two men had held public office at the time and were acting under an emergency decree.

It said only the Supreme Court could assess the case. Thailand’s anti-corruption body was examining the case against the two men, which it could send on to the Supreme Court, local reports said.

It was Mr Suthep who spearheaded the protests that led to the most recent military coup. Protesters blockaded government buildings in a six-month campaign to bring down Ms Yingluck’s government.

Dozens of people died and in February the military took power in a move it said was aimed at restoring stability.

Thailand has been embroiled in political turmoil since the removal of Mr Thaksin in 2006.

The telecommunications billionaire enjoyed huge support from mainly poor rural voters who were aided by his policies.

But Mr Thaksin was despised by the urban elite, who viewed him as corrupt. The military backs the urban elite.

Parties allied to Mr Thaksin have been elected in all the elections since the 2006 coup, however, because of his strong rural support base, leaving Thailand locked in a cycle of unrest.

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August 29, 2014

Thailand court dismisses murder case against ex-PM

Thailand court dismisses murder case against ex-PM

by Elizabeth LaForgia

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://jurist.org/paperchase/2014/08/thailand-court-dismisses-murder-case-against-ex-pm.php

[JURIST] The Criminal Court in Bangkok on Thursday dismissed the murder case against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban for lack of jurisdiction. Abhisit and Suthep are charged [JURIST report] with premeditated and attempted murder for ordering the Thai military to use live ammunition to clear Bangkok of anti-government protesters [JURIST news archive] four years ago. The 2010 operation killed at least 98 people and injured thousands. Although the Criminal Court of Thailand in a previous decision ruled that some of the protesters were killed by bullets coming from the direction of the Thai troops, the court on Thursday ruled [NYT report] that it did not have the authority to rule on the case. Rather, the judges ruled that it was the jurisdiction of the Thai Supreme Court, which deals with political officeholders. As a result of the decision, which is believed will likely rekindle political animosity in Thailand, the case will be transferred to the National Anticorruption Commission, an institution with no experience with murder trials and has made little progress in investigating the case. One of the lawyers for the families of the deceased protesters, Chokchai Angkaew, has said he would appeal the ruling.

Thailand’s political system has been unstable since the 2006 military coup [AHRC backgrounder, PDF] by the Royal Thai Army against then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Recent protests has only exacerbated the instability. At the end of November 2013, Yingluck Shinawatra announced [JURIST report] that there will be no early election in response to recent mass protests by citizens who want her removed from office. Also in November protesters in Thailand demanded [JURIST report] assistance in overthrowing the government after Shinawatra survived a no-confidence vote by parliament. In response to the protests, Shinawatra invoked a special security law [JURIST report] in districts of Bangkok and nearby areas after protesters stormed and occupied several key ministries. At the beginning of November, Thailand’s high court refused to allow [JURIST report] the ruling party to amend constitution.

 

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