Archive for March, 2015

March 31, 2015

The Royal Lao Government never uses Ho Chi Minh Trail for transport weaponry

Boonton woman looking for MIAs, unexploded bombs in Laos

Lorraine Ash, @LorraineVAsh 5:55 p.m. EDT March 30, 2015

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Gutbrod_2_hi-res.jpg (Photo: Photo courtesy of Eric Gutbrod).  U.S. Army Spc. Laura Gutbrod of Boonton is on a 35-day mission to southern Laos, part of a 20-person team looking for unexploded ordinance and any evidence of MIAs from the Vietnam War.

Her Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team is going over the same terrain U.S. forces bombed or traversed 50 years ago.

“Even finding one piece of tiny bone means something,” Gutbrod said in a telephone interview with the Daily Record.

American remains are transferred to an official laboratory in Hawaii for identification by forensic anthropologists, according to the DPAA, which was activated Jan. 30 and dispatches 23 such teams at sites all over the world where Americans have fought and fallen.

“They run a DNA test,” Gutbrod explained. “Once they find a match, they’re able to cross that person’s name off an MIA list, and call the family, because that person is considered found. That way, the family knows their family member passed away.”

She called the work rewarding and an example of the military pledge to leave no soldier behind.

“It’s something that I never expected I’d be able to do in a place I never expected to be,” said Gutbrod, who is stationed with the 25th Infantry Division at the Schofield Barracks in Honolulu.

Until April 9, however, her team, and two others, are sharing a makeshift 60-tent base camp at 9,000 feet, some two hours outside the city of Pakse and 17 miles away from the recovery site they’re working. Each day, she said, they fly by helicopter into the mountains and land at about 18,000 feet, after which they hike down 3,000 feet to the site.

The hiking is intense, she said, especially since the real-feel temperature in Laos is about 105 degrees this time of year.

“It is hot as can be here. There are mountains everywhere,” said Gutbrod, who is digging and working the team’s radio communications.

Presently, Laos is not in its rainy season, which runs, according to, from May to October.

At this time, the 23 American recovery teams, which use standard archaeology methods, include one underwater and one mountaineering team, according to Maj. Natasha Waggoner of the DPAA. Personnel on each team can include a forensic anthropologist, team leader and sergeant, linguist, medic, life support technician, communications technician, forensic photographer, explosive ordnance disposal technician, and mortuary affairs specialists.

Accounting missions began in January 1973, long before the accounting agency came into being, Waggoner said. Over the years, they’ve identified 1,983 MIAs. Currently, Gutbrod’s team is one of 16 teams conducting operations in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea as well as Vanuatu and Palau, the latter two being island nations in the Pacific Ocean.

As of now, there are 302 missing Americans in Laos, 1,269 in Vietnam, and 51 in Cambodia, according to the DPAA. An American POW/MIA investigator, stationed full time in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, pursues leads. The investigator has interviewed some 80 Vietnamese witnesses with helpful information, and, for 10 years, combed through pictures, videos, and other documents concerning U.S. POWs and aircraft wreckages in Lao archives.

“We offer a special thanks to all the governments whose efforts and dedication have enabled DPAA to further progress in achieving the fullest possible accounting of our missing,” Waggoner said. “We rely heavily on those cooperative relationships.”

According to Gutbrod, Lao government representatives are with her team whenever it goes to its recovery site.

“They’re there to survey,” she said, “just to make sure that we’re not doing something we’re not supposed to be doing here.”

When her team found a live 500-pound, cylinder-shaped American cluster bomb, partially above the surface of the ground, its explosive ordnance technicians roped off the area.

“A couple of days later, Lao officials came and took care of it,” she said.

Several search accounts of the Laos landscape reveal a 250- or 500-pound UXO (unexploded ordinance) can be destroyed onsite, but anything larger must be moved before detonation so it does not impact any nearby villages.

From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions, according to Legacies of War, a U.S.-based educational and advocacy organization devoted to addressing the impact of the Vietnam War-era on Laos.

At the time, the Americans were trying to cut off traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, used by both sides during the war to transport weaponry, and support the Royal Lao Government against the ultimately triumphant Communist Pathet Lao.

Legacies of War reports 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Up to 80 million never detonated, leaving the country even today with a dangerous landscape that makes the cultivation of farmland nigh on impossible. Since the war, some 20,000 people have been killed or hurt by unexploded ordnance.

For nine years, the U.S. spent $13.3 million per day (in 2013 dollars) bombing Laos, according to Legacies of War. Between 1995 and 2013, it spent $3.2 million per year clearing unexploded ordinance.

The mission in Laos is the first for Gutbrod, who joined the military for practical and inspirational reasons. Joining provides steady work in an economy where that’s hard to come by, she said, but she also feels like she’s carrying on a family tradition.

Her cousin served in the Navy, she said, and an uncle recently retired from the Air Force. But she joined the Army because of her grandfather—John Gutbrod, 93, of Surf City, an Army veteran.

“My grandfather actually jumped on D-Day,” she said. “He spent most of his time in World War II throughout France and parts of Italy. After hearing all the stories he told me throughout the years, going into the Army seemed like something worthwhile to me.”

This summer, Gutbrod said, she’ll visit her family in Boonton for the first time in three years. She hasn’t seen a family member in a year.

My grandfather taught me that you can go through hell and back again,” she said, “but family is always there.”

Lorraine Ash: 973-428-6660;


March 31, 2015

Searching for ‘The Last Unicorn’ in the Wildness of Laos

Searching for ‘The Last Unicorn’ in the Wildness of Laos

March 31, 2015

Thailand PM ‘to replace martial law’ with new restrictions

BBC News Asia

Thailand PM ‘to replace martial law’ with new restrictions

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Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks to media in Bangkok (31 March 2015)

Gen Prayuth could potentially have more powers under the new emergency measures

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says he has asked Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej for permission to bring an end to martial law.

Martial law was put in place shortly before the army seized power last May, ousting the elected government following months of unrest.

The law banned public gatherings and heavily restricted the media.

Gen Prayuth said he would introduce new measures, which correspondents say could be even more sweeping.

Gen Prayuth, who led last year’s coup and has since been appointed prime minister, said the government was “waiting for the king to royally approve the disuse of martial law”.

“We have prepared Article 44 and will use it soon,” he told reporters.

‘Ultimate power’

Among other powers, article 44 of Thailand’s new constitution allows the prime minister to issue executive orders to “disrupt or suppress” threats to national security or the monarchy.

Gen Prayuth said soldiers would be “able to apprehend people, if an incident occurs, without an arrest warrant”.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says the new measures have the potential to be even more sweeping than martial law.

Thai police arrest a pro-democracy activists (Feb 2015)

Thailand police have repeatedly arrested people for breaking the conditions of martial law, including gathering in groups of more than five people

Rights group Human Rights Watch said implementing article 44 would mean “ultimate power without accountability”.

“This is something very unique and worrying and it is not going to improve the rights situation and ongoing repression,” said spokesman Sunai Phasuk.

The Thai junta – officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order – has insisted that martial law is necessary to maintain stability after years of turbulent politics.

It has promised to restore democracy and hold elections in late 2015, but has repeatedly cracked down on dissent, jailing critics and censoring the media.

International players have voiced concern that the military is consolidating power, while the tourism industry – vital to Thailand’s economy – had complained that martial law was stifling the sector.

March 31, 2015

U.N. Agency Says Thailand’s Aviation Industry Is a ‘Significant Safety Concern’

U.N. Agency Says Thailand’s Aviation Industry Is a ‘Significant Safety Concern’

Thailand is facing bans on new international flights and increased inspections after the International Civil Aviation Organization flagged significant concerns about the country’s aviation safety, officials said Friday.

The ICAO’s designation of Thailand as a “significant safety concern” has not been announced publicly by the U.N. agency but governments were informed last week. Kwak Young-pil, an official from South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, said Friday that the ICAO made the designation on March 20.

Japan has blocked new flights from Thailand following the ICAO decision and South Korea is considering similar measures, officials said. Existing flights aren’t affected.

Among the airlines forced to cancel flights are budget carriers Thai AirAsia X, NokScoot and Asia Atlantic Airline, Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement. Flag carrier Thai Airways is also affected.

The disruptions come ahead of Thailand’s traditional new year, known as Songkran, a heavy travel season when airlines typically increase the number of flights. Thailand is one of the world’s top tourist destinations and its tourism industry is crucial to the economy, employing millions of people.

Thai Airways President Jarumporn Chotikasathein said the airline would have to cancel “about five” charter flights that were being planned for the April holiday schedule. He said Thai Airways and other Thai carriers will also have to undergo increased inspections by regulators from other countries as a result of the ICAO designation.

Thailand was audited by the ICAO in January, about a decade after its last assessment in 2005. Audits assess a country’s overall ability to ensure aviation safety. Among the areas considered are personnel licensing and training, airworthiness assessment and certification, accident investigation and airline operations oversight, according to a report by Watson Farley and Williams, an international law firm with a commercial transport practice.

The ICAO office in Bangkok referred questions to its headquarters in Montreal, which could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Thai ministry’s statement did not give details of the ICAO’s concerns or recommendations. It said that it planned to inform countries about the status of Thailand’s aviation safety and “the solutions to fix the faults that were found in the inspection as soon as possible.”

Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau informed Thailand’s civil aviation department by email earlier this week that it will not allow new charter flights operated by Thai-registered carriers to fly into Japanese airports.

The Japanese ban covers any “change of aviation services” and also bars airlines from changing the type of aircraft normally used on scheduled routes, the Thai civil aviation department said.

In Tokyo, a bureau spokesman Noriaki Umezawa said the measure was a temporary one issued because of concerns the airlines may not fully meet international safety standards.

South Korean said it was considering a similar ban.

Kwak, the South Korean transport official, said it was highly unlikely that new flights would be approved. NokScoot was planning to start flights to Seoul’s Incheon Airport in May.

He said flights currently operating between Thailand and South Korea will not be affected.

Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok and Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea contributed.

Copyright (2015) Associated Press. All rights reserved.

This article was written by Jocelyn Gecker from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

March 31, 2015

Japan Clips Thailand’s Wings With Airline Ban

The Wall Street Journal - Business

Japan Clips Thailand’s Wings With Airline Ban

Thailand says it is looking at ways to improve airline safety procedures after an aviation agency raised concerns

Japan’s ban on Thailand’s airlines also extends to established carriers like Thai Airways. Photo: Reuters

March 30, 2015 7:41 a.m. ET

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BANGKOK—Thai authorities said Monday they will use military-provided powers to improve a poor safety rating from the International Civil Aviation Organization that prompted Japan to ban Thai carriers from adding new flights last week.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters he needed to use the special powers, written into law after he seized power in a coup d’état last May, to bypass time-consuming legislative approvals for improving safety procedures on Thai carriers. He also said Thailand might hire foreign experts to help bring its aviation sector into line with international standards following the ICAO report, which, according to the agency’s communications chief Anthony Philbin, “revealed some safety concerns, primarily relating to air operator certification procedures.”

In an email, Mr. Philbin didn’t provide any further details about the audit, citing confidentiality agreements between ICAO and member nations.

The scheduled review took place between January 19 and January 30 and prompted Japan to ban charter flights from Thailand as well as new routes. Prajin Juntong, Thailand’s transport minister and a former air force chief, told reporters he was concerned that other countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore might follow Tokyo’s lead.

He said Thailand had already responded to ICAO’s findings, and the agency had made some additional suggestions, with which Thai authorities are now working to comply, with the use of military-provided powers if necessary.

“Unless this is solved quickly, the problem can create a domino effect,” Mr. Prajin said.

ICAO’s poor review presents a fresh challenge for a country whose economy is already struggling. Safety concerns for years prevented carriers in the Philippines from adding new flights to the U.S. until the curbs were lifted recently, while 51 Indonesian carriers were barred from entering European Union airspace in 2007 for two years.

Thailand is particularly reliant on tourism, and its dependence has grown since the armed forces seized power last year. While manufacturing and exports have slumped in recent months—shipments fell 6% on year in February—tourist arrivals have grown, with many visitors coming from China and other Asian countries.

The Japan ban also scuttles low-cost carriers’ plans to launch direct flights there. Among those affected are Thai AirAsia X, an affiliate of Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd., and NokScoot, a joint venture between Thailand’s Nok Air and Singapore’s Scoot.

Japan’s move also prevents established carriers such as Thai Airways International from adding flights to destinations in Japan, although Thai Airways President Charamporn Jotikasthira said in a statement that all current flights remain operational although two charter flights have been affected.

As well as submitting a plan to address the shortcomings in the ICAO audit, Thailand has launched a diplomatic effort to prevent other countries from following Japan’s lead. Mr. Prajin said Gen. Prayuth met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the funeral of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew over the weekend. Thailand has also assigned its ambassador to Japan to raise the issue there.

—Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol contributed to this article.

Write to James Hookway at

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