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Security, Safety, Stability: Moving Forward After Erawan Shrine Incident

 “Security, Safety, Stability: Moving Forward After Erawan Shrine Incident

Tuesday, 6th October 2015 at 09.00 - 11.30 a.m.

Room 107, 1st Floor, Building 1, Faculty of Political Science,
Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

 

        Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana

          Dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 

          Speakers:

          Mr. Anthony Davis
          Analyst
          IHS-Jane’s Military and Security Assessment

Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn
Senior Fellow, ISIS Thailand

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University,
Principal Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence 

Pol.Lt.Gen.Dr. Prawut Thavornsiri
Assistant Commissioner General Spokesman Royal Thai Police

Moderator: 

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak
Director of ISIS Thailand Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

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Power Point Presentation

Security, Safety, Stability : Moving Forward After Erawan Shrine Incident: goo.gl/IbJVrS

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Videos: Security, Safety, Stability: Moving Forward After Erawan Shrine Incident

Security, Safety, Stability: Moving Forward After Erawan Shrine Incident Part 1/2: youtu.be/tc5TLDtgpCY

Security, Safety, Stability: Moving Forward After Erawan Shrine Incident Part 2/2: youtu.be/hIEWS7mOq_c

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Introductory Remarks:

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana

Dean,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 

It is my pleasure to open this forum today to focus on the Erawan Shrine incident that took place on August 17th. It has been almost two months but I think it’s fair to say that the situation is still unclear.  Sometimes it looks very murky and sometimes it looks clear.  When it looks clear, it then becomes murky. And when it looks murky, the people in charge say it is clear!

                                   

Certainly, the news headlines have been dominated by the pursuit and prosecution of the perpetrators. The bomb attack, which killed 20 and injured more than 130 innocent bystanders, has raised risks for Thailand’s national security, public safety, and political stability. It has also exposed Thailand’s shadowy rings of transnational crime networks that have long operated locally.

 

While the causes and consequences of the bomb attack still resonate, preventative and preemptive measures are being put in place to avoid a repeat of the carnage we saw last August. Today we have an outstanding line-up of experts to help us make sense of the “what”, “why”, “when” and “how” issues.  I would like to thank each of them for sparing their valuable time and expertise

 

Anthony Davis

 

In his opinion, Anthony Davis stated that there were more serious threats to Thailand including political divergence, environmental constructions, the impact of global warning. The Erawan Shrine incident was not Thailand’s 9/11 in which will lead to fundamental changes in the threat of international terrorism in this country. According to his presentation, he expected similar incidents to happen again in the coming future.

 

Davis provided historical incidents in Thailand to support his opinion. In March 1993, there was an explosive truck attempted to destroy the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok. Fortunately, the minor accident caused by motorcycle taxi stopped the driver to take action. In August 2003, the close cooperation between the Thai Security Intelligence service and the American’s Central Intelligence Agency successfully apprehended Bali’s terrorist in Ayudhaya. Similar cooperation between international agencies took place again in January and February 2012 with the Israeli Intelligence Services to arrest Iranian groups which aimed to attack Israeli diplomats.

 

The current incident in August 2015 was catastrophe successful in central Bangkok with apparent support from Xinjiang, China. Davis observed that despite myriad incidents in the past, the significant problem deals with investigation skills of related Thai authorities. In most cases especially in the past 50 years, Thai polices require external information from foreign intelligence agencies to rescue terrorists. This also deals with corruption at custom procedures which allow terrorists and transnational criminals, to perceive Thailand as a convenient place and eventually, to easily enter the kingdom.

 

Apart from domestic political conflict, Davis highlighted that the Thais as well as their international authorities are ignorant to outside world for example the conflicts in Syria, the Middle East, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact, the absence of interest prevent them to understand an overall picture and the consequences that may have cause domestic incidents in Thailand.  He left unanswered questions to raise awareness about the incidents and related issues including whether Thai authorities have fully utilized their capacities to deal with international terrorists? Have they communicated effectively to each other?

 

In sum, Davis suggested that despite the previous incident would not lead to fundamental changes in the security governance of the country, he believes that related authorities could have improved their investigation system to prevent similar circumstance in the future. In addition, the Thai government should establish External Intelligence Agency which understand the context, the language and ultimately the overall picture of international events. The group of analysts should be responsible for analyzing data and developing necessary policy suggestions to the government and related agencies. 

 

Moderator: It is a good time that you have raised numbers of events you see in the recent past, is it a first time that, normally other people attack other people in Thailand, is it the first time that other people the attack Thailand in Thailand? I think it is best say that there is not one single cause of this task but an intersection of different consequences, is it right what I am saying?

 

Anthony: Your first question relates to whether this was foreigners attacking Thailand? It seems to me that whoever did it simply what they did in the center of Bangkok that is not an attack on the Chinese tourist, but Thailand, Thai people and the Thai state. That’s my opinion. What I would suggest is that is it possible to find a primary cause? There are other issue involve but I think it’s good to stay focus on what was the primary cause and where the primary actors came from and what motivated them?

 

Kavi Chongkitthavorn

 

Kavi supported Davis’ observation with his experience in journalism career. He also argued that the Thai authorities lack the capacities to deal with international terrorism. In addition, he also pointed out that the international terrorism network is interlinked. In contrast to Davis, Kavi claimed that the Erawan Shrine Incident had huge impact on the internal security governance in the coming years. However, his concern lays on the fact that most people focus on what was happening without trying to understand what has happened previously. 

 

Kavi also reviewed previous issues interrelated to Thai’s refugees influx. Apart from long border line with its neighbouring country, the large number of incoming immigrants from Xinjiang, Cambodia and Myanmar was a consequence of weak border management system and patrol control. Despite the current government realised the problem and has repatriated immigrants home, the problems has deeply rooted and required time and resources to solve.

 

Along the same line, Kavi observed that people has not talked about why these people came to Thailand? Why Thailand attracts these people? Normally Thailand should not be the place for these people for example, Thailand attracts the Rohinya because they want to pass to Malaysia because their destination’s border control is stricter than in Thailand. However, once they realise that the Thai border officers can be easily corrupted, Thailand has been a connection point to their final destination.

 

From abovementioned background, the Thais may never expect such incident from external terrorism as the country is not the destination for international immigrants. The Erawan Shrine incident is expected to change their thoughts and the new securities governance. From Kavi’s argument, the Erawan Shrine incident was not an isolate circumstance but interrelated to other nations. Apparently, this issue is not the issue for Thailand only but the issue for all nations in ASEAN members to cooperate and solve the problem together.

 

Moderator: Thank you Khun Kavi. I think your main message is Thailand needs to wake up. Would you say something about Thailand and China relation?

 

Kavi: This incident will strengthen the Thai security system and also the Thai-Chinese relationship because the willingness of the Thai to cooperate with the Chinese authorities. Currently, the Thai do not have a forensic standard to cope with such problem.

 

Panitan Wattanayagorn

 

Thailand is facing both new and old challenges.

We are facing a new challenge. Looking at the current event, this group of people is better trained and organised than other attempted or successful bomb attacks. After the incident, they covered up well making it difficult to investigate. These remarks are echoed in the government and police reports following the incident. The current level of violence, networking and intentions of culprits is unprecedented, and we need to re-examine the situation more closely.

Thailand is not new in terms of incidents like this, both in terms of domestic and international points of view. We have had numerous incidents involving embassies, domestic conflict and the Southern conflict. This is not new in many regards, but there are many elements that have been exacerbated in the Erawan incident

 

Last year on October 1st, the current administration set up a unified operations command centre situated in the Ministry of Defence, involving all security units to operate and to counter some of the threats facing the country. Thailand has more than 200,000 police officer and more than 300,000 military members, also several thousand civilian personnel in the security sector. This needs a unified command structure, which was set up with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan as its chief. The objective of that centre is to improve the security, safety and stability of the people and the country. There will be more operations led in a more unified fashion. There will be more military-led approaches in different areas (such as human trafficking, countering drug trafficking, border security etc.)

 

There is still a lack of capabilities in some sectors, and the incident at Ratchaprasong is a stark reminder of this. However, the government performed quite well in dealing with its foreign friends with the incident, as there were certain elements which were foreign.  The arrests and information regarding these individuals have very much been supported by Thailand’s friends, in particular some of our neighbours which were cooperative with the police and military. Although there are new types of operations, such as the unified security command structure, there are many old approaches such as looking towards neighbours for help that are still relevant.

 

In recent weeks, there has been more discussion about a new type of security structure which may take place in this administration. Looking at different agencies, they are all looking towards security sector reform. There may be a structure which resembles a ‘Homeland Security’ department similar to other countries. The Prime Minister has asked the various agencies to try to come up with a national security strategy for the next 20 years, a plan which is unprecedented. Thailand is also an undeveloped country, so we do not have a limitless budget. But the government is trying to combine various agencies under the one roof, and make sure the new structure is compatible with a democratic system.

 

Domestically, Thailand is facing new challenges. When you have political conflicts, groups using weapons of war, there are greater challenges for all security agencies. Thailand has 25 million visitors per year, but only limited resources to track them all. If Thailand is not secure it cannot grow or return to normalcy.

 

The next challenges are how to improve the preventative measures against a repeat of this kind event, and how to make a new security structure which works well with civilian governments. This cannot be achieved without cooperation from foreign countries. It is quite sad that certain countries have put limits on the extent to which they are willing to cooperate with Thailand.

 

Moderator: A number of agencies need streamlining - the National Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, and Internal Security Operations Command.

 

Pol. Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri

The police have used the best technology at their disposal to find and capture those responsible for the attacks on 17 August 2015. There is a surveillance room which oversees the entire Ratchaprasong intersection, but unfortunately the cameras in that area were the first to be installed so the technology is not as new as it should have been. Even before the attack, they were slated to be replaced by the end of the year.

 

Everyone who comes in and out of the country has to be monitored at every checkpoint. The police sent the various composite pictures of the suspects, particularly the ‘yellow shirt man,’ to every checkpoint across the country; not just police and immigration checkpoints, but also to the military.

 

The following day there was an incident at the Sathorn Pier. Footage from the metropolitan camera was also used to identify a ‘blue shirt man,’ for whom a warrant was issued. An arrest warrant for a female suspect who lived close to the suspects in the Minburi area, named Wanna Suansan or Maisaroh who is a Thai national, has also been issued. A number of warrants for the ‘gang’ have also been issued.

 

One man, Mieraili Yusufu, Chinese national, was arrested on charges of conspiracy to possess illegal explosives and conspiracy to possess war weapons. He was the bomb-making expert in the ‘gang.’ The police inspected the suspects’ phones to find photographs of the actual bombs used at the Ratchaprasong intersection and Sathorn Pier. Both of the arrested suspects have confessed everything.

 

Since the bombing, training for security officers has been increased, in order to protect the public. Officers have been deployed in important parts of the city, such as the tourist, business and government hubs. Many of the officers were out of uniform to try not to interfere with Thailand’s tourist atmosphere.

This crisis also has to be looked at as an opportunity. In the aftermath of this type of crisis in other countries, many have used it as a chance to improve their security systems and organisation. Now, the Royal Thai Police are attempting to take similar action. Thailand has more than 25 million visitors every year, so the first thing that needs to be improved is the technology used in the immigration system. There will be more systems to be able to track visitors coming into Thailand through biometric identification technology (face match and fingerprint match) to be put in place before the end of next year. The aim is to make a more proactive, rather than reactive, national immigration system.

 

Question and Answer:

Public Question: After the bombing, we haven’t heard much from the Chinese authorities. Do you know of any technical assistance given by the Chinese authorities to the Thai police or government?

 

Prawut: We did ask for some assistance, but right now we have been able to do everything ourselves. We didn’t have the issue that we needed Chinese help. We asked every country for assistance. If the country knows any details of this ‘gang,’ every country can report to us through Interpol channels. Not just the Chinese.

 

Panitan: Just for you information, at the policy level, the National Security Council has been updating their cooperation with different countries. If I am not mistaken, they have updated and recently signed two new MOUs with the Chinese security agencies. One is aiming to counter transnational crime. One or two MOUs have been updated with India; the NSC chiefs from Thailand and India just completed reciprocal visits. Realising that we have over one million Russian tourists, there are also a lot of discussions about updating MOUs with Russia in the near future.

 

On borders, the authorities are now ready to implement some of the updated practises. We are going to put up certain electronic fences with some of our neighbours. It has been accepted in principle at the policy level. We do not have much sophistication or money to build the most modern fence that you see in the Middle East, but there will be a Thai version of an electronic fence combined with regular patrols on certain borders to curb down some of the problems that we have mentioned.

 

There are almost 16 areas that the NSC has outlined that have not been updated in recent years due to the domestic problems in Thailand. But within a year, a lot of these policies will be updated and implemented. We will continue to evaluate the success of these new policies as we go along in the next few months.

The military is clear on one thing; they do not want the next civilian government to rely on them too much. They are willing and able to lend certain capacities to the police, but they are more and more reluctant to do so. So the police and civilian units must be responsible to undertake these activities in the future. To be honest, there are some military people who are concerned about transferring responsibilities to the police and civilian agencies, but I think that this transfer is a normal path.

 

Moderator: Is it fair to say that Thailand has sought assistance from a wide variety of countries, and Thailand has not turned down assistance from any country?

Prawut: We have tried to ask for help from every country. We have sent notes through the Interpol channel to 190 countries to search for this ‘gang’ for us. We have received some news from Interpol, but it so far hasn’t been relevant to our investigation. We try to ask for technical from European countries and America, but at this time we know about this group already. In the future, we might try to ask for assistance in training or using biometric data.

 

Panitan: Just to make it clear, the Deputy Prime Minister welcomes assistance from all countries, especially in technical terms, expertise that we do not have. He is also very clear that a foreign team coming to Thailand to investigate is not possible. I think that this is fair; in Spain when the Madrid bombing took place, you do not expect the Thai police to come and investigate. But different cooperation is possible. Without this assistance, I think the investigation would not go forward as it has. We have had much useful help in intelligence sharing, capacity sharing with our foreign friends.

 

Moderator: There has been a foreign element involved, but to what extent has there also been a domestic element involved? This man named “Odd,” has his role been major or minor?

Prawut: This is natural. When there is a case occurring in a country, they have locals involved. It hasn’t been a big role in this case; drivers, translators, help purchase some equipment, rent out their property.

 

Panitan: What we saw in the past few weeks in the investigation is quite different in my thinking. They are very meticulous in many ways, relying on forensic and scientific evidence. There is also less speculation when compared to different cases. The role of the Thai individuals in this case is just simply from the activities detected, but still the investigation is still ongoing into probing connections and links.

 

Normally, there is often a lot of speculation about political groups’ involvements, but there is none of that in this case. The government has not mentioned involvement of any domestic political groups. The police are just simply releasing information based on hard evidence which is quite different to what took place in other incidents during the divided environment in the past few years.

 

“Khun Odd” is certainly a dubious character. He does not have identification. The former police chief has also been making some interesting comments; another ‘odd’ element. In the end, if you look closely, the investigation is very tightly implemented and effective.

 

Moderator: The public can hardly be blamed for having a different perception because within hours of the attack the crime scene was cleared. Of course we have had a lot of odd comments from the former police chief which have been inconsistent day-by-day.

The police general has said that the role of Thais is more secondary; supportive, not the masterminds. 

 

 


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