Thailand Weekly Intelligence Report
Date: 4 February 2018
Monitoring Period: 00:00, 28 JAN 2018 to 23:59hrs 02 FEB 2018 (GMT+8)
Overall, Thailand’s situation this week appears to have increased only slightly; keeping the overall situation in the country at MEDIUM-HIGH. While the majority of incidents across Thailand remain the same, the small-scale protests that have occurred for the third week in a row indicate a there is a POSSIBLE willingness of critics of the NCPO to disregard bans on political activities and public gatherings. While those disregarding these bans do not appear to pose the same kind of threat that would come from the PAD, UDD or PDRC protests; the activities seen this week could encourage those groups to carry out their own activities, thus making the protests a POTENTIAL beginning of unrest.
This Weekly Intelligence Report on Thailand is intended to analyse what has been happening country wide then delve into Bangkok due to its significance as the nation’s capital and analyse events on one other reporting region – carried out on a rotation basis – in order to delve into SIGACTS as well as examine trends occurring elsewhere more easily. The region to be examined alongside Bangkok this week is the East Reporting Region.
COUNTRY WIDE REPORTING
Over this period there have been 61 incidents throughout Thailand which have been logged on the Intelligence Fusion platform; with Bangkok and the Southern Reporting Regions continuing to be the areas with the highest levels of recorded activity at this time. Most of these incidents have occurred towards the end of January and has seen the month finish with 210 incidents with a rate of 6.77 incidents/day.
COMMENT. The highest level of activity was seen in November 2017 with the change in weather conditions and fallout from the Royal Cremation. COMMENT ENDS.
In terms of what types of activity is occurring throughout the country, the graphs and table below indicate that over the period since the last report, there have been slight decreases in the quantity and severity of incidents. Depsite the decreases though, the severity of these incidents remains at a MEDIUM-HIGH level. Incidents of ‘Criminality’ and ‘Other’ continue to as the highest levels of incidents due to the ongoing political developments and ongoing issues with individual and organised crime. Criminality continues to be 45% of incidents occurring in Thailand while ‘Other’ has again increased slightly to 31%. These incidents continue to occur within Bangkok and the South reporting regions. While it is only a small number of incidents, this week has been the third in a row where ‘Protest’ incidents have occurred despite the NCPO’s ban on political activities (McCabe and Harrington, 2018; Pratten, McCabe, and D. Harrington, 2018, 2018).
BANGKOK REPORTING REGION
Bangkok continues as the area of highest activity. Unlike the country as a whole though, ‘Other’ incidents make up the vast majority at 56% of all incidents while ‘Criminality’ is at a distant second with 34%. January has seen the highest number of incidents over the last 6 months and this can be largely attributed to two things: increasing statements/developments surrounding the progress of the Organic Acts which will enable the next election to occur and what now appears to be growing frustration with the NCPO and the NLA from Democrat and Pheu Thai Parties. Following the NLA’s vote to delay the enforcement of the Organic Act on MP’s last week, there has been speculation from the NLA President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai that the Organic Act on the Election of MPs and on Selection of Senators could actually be scrapped. However, this appears to be speculation from one person at this time. Secondly, activist groups comprising mainly of students are beginning to defy the NCPO’s ban on political activities – particularly public gatherings of 5 or more people (McCabe and Harrington, 2018).
COMMENT. While the protests have ben peaceful, Thailand has a history of these kinds of activities turning violent. The Australian DFAT for example warns travellers to the country to, “avoid demonstrations, political events, rallies, processions and large-scale public gatherings as they can turn violent (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017).” COMMENT ENDS.
2. 30 JAN 2018: SIM Card Purchases to Require Biometric and Facial Scans Across Thailand
Back in December 2017, the government launched a biometric registration system for prepaid SIM cards. Reporting from this week indicates this registration process will be extended in February and will include post-paid contracts, covering nearly all SIM cards sold in the country. The fingerprint and facial scans will be linked to the SIM cards' respective phone numbers and stored in a database operated by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.
The system is intended partly as an anti-terrorism measure, according to the government. Authorities have also weighed in, stating that tying SIM cards to biometric data will help deal with a wide range of offenses beyond terrorism as well, helping police apprehend criminals while also providing a source of evidence.
COMMENT. Thailand has seen numerous RCIED attacks where cellular phones were used as the detonator, as well as walkie talkies. This kind of detonator allows IEDs to be detonated from a distance, making it tougher to track down the culprit. Using prepaid phones, which do not need to be linked to a credit card or bank account, can complicate matters further. This technique was reportedly used in the August 2015 bombing at Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok, which killed 20 people, and a string of attacks at resorts in southern Thailand in August 2016 (Kishimoto, 2018).
While such a measure would indeed make it easier to track down Southern insurgents and criminals, this registration would be a major concern for foreign nationals travelling to the country who want to maintain privacy. COMMENT ENDS.
3. 27 JAN – 02 FEB 2018: Protests in Bangkok and The NCPO’s Reaction
Over the week, there have been additional protests occurring in Bangkok:
27 JAN 2018 – Reacting to the NLA’s vote last week to delay the enforcement of the Organic Act on the Election of MPs, a group of pro-democracy activists assembled in Pathumwan to protest against the junta and demanded the general election be held this year. The DRG, led by Sirawich "Ja New" Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook for people to join them near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre. Approximately 100 people attended and included an individual named Sombat Boonngam-anong; a member of the UDD or ‘Red-Shirts.’ Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic. 01 FEB 2018 - A group of about 40 people turned up at the MoD to show their support to Gen Prawit Wongsuwon. They gave flower bouquets to Gen Prawit's representative and encouraged the minister to stay on. The move came after Gen Prawit announced that he was ready to resign if the people don't want him to stay any longer. 02 FEB 2018 – Police arrested four activists from a pro-democracy group called Young People for Social-Democracy Movement (YPD) near the Victory Monument, Bangkok. The arrest occurred after the four performed a mime mocking the corruption allegations of the Deputy PM, General Prawit Wongsuwan. The four activists are Thatchapong Kaedam, Thiwat Damkaew, Panjasak Boon-Ngam and ‘Lak.’ The police accused them of violating the 2015 Public Assembly Act for failing to give prior notice to the authorities before holding the activity.
Authorities have since been taken action against individual demonstrators as well as against individuals from the PGN who began a protest march from Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus last week. Authorities have laid charges against 8 activists from the PGN and 2 who attended the DRG protest in Pathumwan – one of whom was the UDD member in attendance Sombat Boonngam-anong – for violating the current laws against political activities, public demonstrations and sedition in some cases with the PGN activists. Those who attended the gathering to support the Deputy PM have were charged for the same offence (The Bangkok Post, 2018a, 2018b; Pratten, McCabe, and D. Harrington, 2018; McCabe and Harrington, 2018; Tanakasempipat et al., 2018).
COMMENT. The conduct of these protests would indicate a growing willingness for the NCPO’s critics to violate current laws. Sirawich "Ja New" Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome have featured in previous activities which have been aimed at criticising the NCPO; Rome has been very active in criticising the NCPO for a number of issues that have even included criticising the PM’s use of Section 44 powers to commence the construction of high speed railways with assistance from China. Interestingly, neither Rome nor Ja New appear to be the focus of legal action from the NCPO at this time. Based on the charges laid against the UDD member who attended the DRG’s gathering, the NCPO could be limiting its focus on charging those violating current laws who may have been involved in previous violent protests (Pratten et al., 2017c; McCabe and Harrington, 2018).
While Thailand has a history of protests becoming violent, a current report being written on protest groups in Thailand indicates that groups such as the DRG and PGN do not currently appear to pose a threat that comes from the UDD, PAD or the PDRC. COMMENT ENDS.
4. 01 FEB 2018: Siamese and Padauk Wood Seized in Bangkok
Customs officials at the Bangkok port on seized Siamese rosewood and Padauk wood worth about Bt100 million (US$3179000.00) in six containers bound for Hong Kong. The protected wood weighed 110 tonnes and were mixed in food shipments. After the seizure of the protected wood, customs officials have stated they have been coordinating with Hong Kong authorities (Thai PBS, 2018; McCabe and Harrington, 2018).
COMMENT. This seizure follows a joint raid carried out by the Royal Thai Police and Phaya Sua Special Task Force of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation last week as well as operations against what appears to be a separate network up in Nakhon Ratchasima province. They seized close to 15 tonnes of illegally harvested Phayung logs and planks at two warehouses in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan; the value was estimated to be Bt35 million (US$1,112,300.00) in Thailand. Among the seven men arrested were two Chinese nationals. Evidence surrounding the raid indicated this was a large smuggling operation with domestic and international contacts (Pratten, McCabe, and D. Harrington, 2018). While this wood is very popular in China, the coordination between Thailand and Chinese Authorities could mean that those trading in illegal timber could turn their focus to selling it elsewhere. COMMENT ENDS.
EAST REPORTING REGION
The East reporting region of Thailand sees little activity in comparison to Bangkok and the South. Since 18 DEC 2017, incidents in the East reporting region have remained at a consistent level of below 1 incident/day.
However, this part of Thailand is not an area of low activity. The East reporting region is quite popular for tourists due to the nightlife in Pattaya, Bang Lamung district in Chon Buri province. With this popularity comes drug use, drug trafficking, assaults, organised crime networks, theft and prostitution (Pratten et al., 2017a; McCabe and Harrington, 2018; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017). These incidents – along with drug trafficking from the North-East and illegal logging operations which have been occurring in Nakhon Ratchasima province – are what makes incidents of ‘Criminality’ take up 73% of all incidents logged for this part of Thailand.
As of the time of this report, this trend is set to continue for the future. However, there have been significant achievements made by Thai authorities against illegal logging operations which have been occurring in the southern parts of Nakhon Ratchasima province.
6. 21 JAN 2018: 300kg of Ice Seized in Nakhon Ratchasima
A Malaysia-bound consignment of 300kg of 'Ice' was found hidden among hundreds of watermelons inside a truck. The truck was transporting the agriculture produce when it was stopped at a police checkpoint in Nakhon Ratchasima. The three men travelling in the vehicle were arrested. The Narcotics Suppression Bureau stated the drug was estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of Baht and was destined for southern Thailand where it would be smuggled into Malaysia.
COMMENT. In comparison to previous shipments coming from the North-East, this shipment of ‘Ice’ would appear to be small. Prior incidents and analysis done on drug trafficking activity in Thailand indicates this seizure was within an area that has seen only a few seizures since May 2017. Most drug trafficking incidents – based on the imagery below – occur at the entry/exit points (McCabe and Harrington, 2018; Pratten et al., 2017b). This seizure would appear to be in an area where traffickers have less chances of getting caught by the police. COMMENT ENDS.
7. 26 JAN 2018: 43 Cambodians Arrested for Illegal Logging in Soeng Sang District, Nakhon Ratchasima
43 Cambodian nationals have been arrested and equipment used for cutting wood seized as part of a continuing crackdown on illegal logging in and around Thap Lan National Park. The Cambodian workers were apprehended near the forest within tambon Non Sombun of Soeng Sang district by a military-led task force.
Seized from them were saws and other equipment and a number of Phayung (Siamese rosewood) logs and planks. Footage from closed-circuit television cameras installed in and around the park captured the men carrying equipment and food supplies into the forest.
These arrests brought the number of suspected log poachers caught in the park to 95, including 89 Cambodian nationals and six Thai men, in six raids that began on Dec 25. A total of 252 processed Phayung planks, three pickup trucks and nine chainsaws have been seized in the six cases.
COMMENT. These arrests came shortly after the FPOC in Khon Kaen province arrested the leader or key coordinator of these operations. This gang is believed to be the largest Phayung logging gang in the country and possibly transnational in scope. This group appears to have been well-resourced, supported and willing to engage in SAF attacks against Thai authorities in order to avoid arrest. The arrests of these Cambodians would appear to be a follow-on effect of the arrest in Khon Kaen.
The FPOC’s Phayak Prai taskforce joined up with Thap Lan National Park Rangers last year to track illegal-logging operations by the gang's members within the Sakaerat Environmental Research Station in Nakhon Ratchasima province. Shown in the imagery below, efforts by this task force have seen a number of arrests in forest areas of Nakhon Ratchasima province (McCabe and Harrington, 2018; Pratten, McCabe, and D. Harrington, 2018). COMMENT ENDS.
COMMENT. The above forecast and a weather warning provided by the Thai Meteorological Department do indicate some severe weather conditions are anticipated (Thai Meteorological Department, 2018). However, there has been a lack of ‘Flooding’ or ‘Landslide’ Hazards occurring, indicating the anticipated weather conditions will not be a major cause of concern and unlikely to impact Thailand dramatically. COMMENT ENDS.
Overall, Thailand’s situation this week appears to have increased only slightly; keeping the overall situation in the country at MEDIUM-HIGH. While the majority of incidents across Thailand remain the same, the small-scale protests that have occurred for the third week in a row indicate a there is a POSSIBLE willingness of critics of the NCPO to disregard bans on political activities and public gatherings. While those disregarding these bans do not appear to pose the same kind of threat that would come from the PAD, UDD or PDRC protests; the activities seen this week could encourage those groups to carry out their own activities, thus making the protests by the DRG – and the PGN earlier last week – POTENTIAL beginnings of political unrest. This is particularly the case for Bangkok at the moment.
The incidents surrounding illegal logging operations in Bangkok and in Nakhon Ratchasima indicate that Thai authorities are POSSIBLY making successful efforts at countering illegal logging operations in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. However, given that both groups in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima appear to be well-resourced, stretch outside of Thailand and the demand for Phayung / Siamese Rosewood; the arrests and seizures will PROBABLY be a short-term success as these networks will PROBABLY have the resilience to adapt and continue; one way they may adapt is to POTENTIALLY sell their timber elsewhere that isn’t currently cooperating with Thai authorities. With that in mind, those in the timber trade that source material from South-East Asia could be at risk of purchasing illegal wood.
Finally, the developments surrounding biometric registration for SIM card purchases will no doubt be an effective measure at combatting the Southern insurgency and organised in nearly all facets. However, this will POSSIBLY pose a threat to those travelling to Thailand and have a preference for privacy. From now on, it will PROBABLY be necessary for those wanting to safeguard their privacy – whether it is for legitimate reasons or not – while in Thailand to avoid purchasing mobile phones and SIM cards in Thailand
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