Michael McCabe (CEO)

Michael McCabe (CEO)

Management

28/01/2018

28/01/2018

Thailand Weekly Intelligence Report

Date: 28 January 2018

Monitoring Period: 20:01hrs, 20 JAN 2018 to 23:59hrs 27 JAN 2018 (GMT+8)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Thailand’s overall situation appears to have decreased only slightly this week; remaining between MEDIUM-HIGH and will PROBABLY remain at this level for the remainder of January. While the weather has been the main factor in preventing the kinds of incidents seen across Thailand this week, the forecast over the next 7 days will be unlikely to hinder anything next week. Incidents which have been happening in Bangkok and around the country indicate there will be POTENTIAL for incidents which have been largely absent in prior reports – namely protests against the NCPO – to increase.

INTRODUCTION

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 North-East Reporting Region.

COUNTRY WIDE REPORTING

Over this period there have been 60 incidents throughout Thailand which have been logged on the Intelligence Fusion platform; with Bangkok and the Southern Reporting Regions – specifically in Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla provinces – being the areas with the highest levels of recorded activity at this time.

 

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. Bangkok and the South Reporting Regions continue to be the areas of highest activity; based on the trends below Bangkok has had the highest number of incidents occurring in one month than in the last 6 months. These two regions have been the main reason for the rate of incidents per day now reaching similar levels to what has been seen over the last 6 months.

 

‘Criminality’ and ‘Other’ incidents continue to lead as the main types of incidents occurring throughout the country; ‘Criminality remains at 45% of all incidents which have been logged while ‘Other’ has increased to 30% this week. An interesting development has been the occurrence of ‘Protest’ incidents for the second week in a row. While the number of these incidents is no way near enough to challenge long running trends in terms of types of incidents occurring throughout the country, developments surrounding two of these protests stemming from last week’s planned protest march from Thammasat University would appear to have potential ramifications for the future of such activity.

UPDATE - POST INCIDENT REPORT: IED ATTACK ON PIMOLCHAI MARKET, YALA

While outside of this week’s reporting regions, there have been developments surrounding the IED attack on the Pimolchai market which killed three and wounded nearly 20 in Mueang district, Yala; there have been two suspects arrested for this attack. Both of them are linked to the RKK; one of them being a skilled bomb maker according to available reports.

 

COMMENT. Due to the ongoing refusal by insurgent groups to claim responsibility for attacks in Southern Thailand, it remains difficult to determine if the RKK is an insurgent group in its own right or if it is an armed wing of the BRN. However, these reports have confirmed the RKK’s existence in the Southern Thailand insurgency continues. COMMENT ENDS.

BANGKOK REPORTING REGION

 

1. SUMMARY

Bangkok continues as the area of highest activity, with incidents this week creating a spike in activity. Thai authorities continue to make arrests against large organised crime networks throughout Bangkok; with the investigation into the human trafficking that was happening at Victoria’s Secret Massage parlour continuing, scam operations continuing to be discovered and shut down as well as drug networks and even raiding a warehouse containing Siamese Rosewood.

Amongst the background of the political developments – which are the main theme surrounding the majority of ‘Other’ incidents – appears to be an increased effort by the Democrat and Pheu Thai Parties to push back against NCPO orders and efforts to investigate the 2013 Amnesty Bill brought forward by 40 ex-members of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. These developments – and the sedition charges against 9 members of the former PDRC – will be the subject of an upcoming product looking at Thailand’s political landscape.

SIGACTS

2. 22-26 JAN 2018: Political Developments

 

During the week the NLA voted to postpone enforcement of the Organic Bill on the Election of MP’s after it is published in the Royal Gazette, completing its process of becoming law. NLA members voted 196-12 with 14 abstentions to carry out the clause contained in the Bill. The delay could be up to 90 days as per the clause after which an election needs to be held 150 days afterwards. Vitthaya Piewpong, chairman of the NLA panel considering the bill, said the delay was necessary so people and parties had time to study the new law.

PM Chan-o-cha has insisted the decision to delay the vote has not come from any orders by himself or the NCPO; which has been backed up by Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon insisting the move is down to the NLA’s decision. Other members of the government have also provided their input on this development with Deputy PM Wissanu Kreangam believing a general election would be postponed by just a month in the worst-case scenario. The delay has nonetheless sparked criticism from members of Thailand’s major parties, among them Democrat Leader and former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva; stating that the NCPO is not ready to rescind its hold on power.

Amongst the statements surrounding this vote, the panel that was scrutinising the Bill last week took into account the NCPO Chief's Order No.53 involving the internal procedures of political parties. The order requires existing party members to confirm their status within 30 days of 01 APR 2018 or lose their membership, with fundraising for existing parties can begin from the same date. The order overrode the Organic Law on Political Parties, which stipulated these procedures could start as soon as the legislation took effect on 08 OCT 2017. If the bill on MP election were to be enforced immediately after being announced in the Royal Gazette, this would trigger a 150-day time frame for an election to be held, which could jeopardise parties who may be unable to select their election candidates in time let alone complete the primary vote procedures which must also be undertaken.

COMMENT. The vote to delay the enforcement of this Organic Bill would mean the election could be delayed until February 2019. This delay goes against PM Chan-o-cha’s prior statements that the election would be held during November this year.

When the Organic Bill on Political Parties was passed last year, it brought into effect several changes to the running of political parties. Among the changes the 152-section law introduces are required seed funds, membership fees and a primary voting system. Before each party is set up, it must have at least 500 co-founders and a seed fund of not less than Bt1 million, contributed by all of its founders at rates ranging between Bt1,000 and Bt50,000. When this came into effect, numerous politicians criticised the move saying that the new regulations would make it difficult for their parties to set themselves up in time for the election. Considering this, the delay in enforcing the Organic Bill on the Election of MP’s could therefore be to their advantage and give them more time to prepare. COMMENT ENDS.

While this development surrounding the election of MP’s being delayed, the NLA also voted to pass the Organic Bill on the selection of 250 senators with the number of groups of candidates vying for Senate seats reduced by half during the second reading. The bill, the last of 10 organic bills drafted by the CDC, was tabled to the NLA for second and third readings. During the second reading of the draft law, some NLA members suggested that the number of groups of candidates be reduced further. In the final reading, the number of groups of candidates was reduced to 10 social and professional groups and the NLA also decided against the cross-voting and opted instead for voting within the social and professional groups. These 10 groups will select 200 senators through this voting system while another 50 will be appointed via other means.

COMMENT. This Organic Bill has often been criticised for ensuring the Thai military maintain a hold on power over whatever government is voted in at the next election. This Bill appears to have been passed without any criticism being levelled at it by Thai politicians. COMMENT ENDS.

3. 20-27 JAN 2018: Protest March Allowed to Occur

Last week, a group of activists named the PGN began a protest march at the Thammasat University located in Pathum Thani province. The intent was to march from the University to Khon Kaen province in the North-East in order to draw attention to rights to universal health care, farmers’ rights, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution. However, the march was blocked by police and charges were laid against 8 members for defying the NCPO Order 3/2558 which bans public gathering of more than five people. The move saw some PGN members petition the Central Administrative Court for an injunction as their march was reportedly announced and approved in advance while some members reportedly managed to sneak out of the University and begin their march in groups of four – imagery below indicates one such group was marching along the Mittrahap Highway running between Sara Buri province and Khon Kaen province. Those that sought the injunction were successful in having the it approved on 26 JAN 2018 which orders the Royal Thai Police to refrain from doing anything that will obstruct the group's rights to peaceful assembly. The court also instructed the police to facilitate the activity and provide safety for the long march participants until the end of the activity set for 17 FEB 2018.

 

COMMENT. During these incidents, a group representing vendors of the Chatuchak market also carried out a protest in front of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration as well as a group conducting a similar protest down in Songkhla in support of the PGN’s march. The PGN’s successful injunction could mean a precedent has been set for other groups wanting to conduct protests, providing a loop hole for activists via the legal system. In addition, those groups unable to go through the legal system would now have a means of carrying out protests in accordance with the NCPO’s ban. COMMENT ENDS.

4.25 JAN 2018: Police Raid Warehouses Containing 15t Of Siamese Rosewood in Samut Prakan

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 seized close to 15 tonnes of illegally harvested Phayung – Siamese Rosewood – logs and planks. The raid occurred at two warehouses in Soi Nam Daeng 17, tambon Bang Kaew of Bang Phli district. Among the seven men arrested were two Chinese nationals. Deputy National Police Chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said the timber was worth about Bt35 million (US$1,112,300.00) in Thailand, but far more overseas.

Evidence surrounding the raid has indicated this was a large smuggling operation with international contacts. There was evidence the gang had been using the two warehouses to store logs to prepare them for shipment since December 2017. In addition, there had been previous shipments of Phayung logs from these two warehouses before; casting suspicion as to how the shipments had been able to get through the Customs Department's X-ray scanning.

COMMENT. Phayung / Siamese Rosewood is in high demand in countries outside of Thailand; particularly in China. Previous reporting surrounding illegal logging of Siamese Rosewood has predominantly been occurring in the East and North-East Reporting Regions and has been pursued by a taskforce from the Forest Protection Operations Centre called the Phayak Phrai Task Force. The above raid being carried out by a different task force would indicate this illegal logging operation is separate to the group operating near Thap Lan National Park; it could be behind the incidents which have been occurring in the North, Central and South Reporting regions. COMMENT ENDS.

NORTH-EAST REPORTING REGION

 

5. SUMMARY

Although activity in this part of Thailand is among the lowest levels compared to the rest of the country, the North-East Reporting region has become known for two main incidents since closer monitoring of Thailand began in May 2017; those being drug trafficking of large quantities of Marijuana, Yaba and Ice and bearing the brunt of floods during the wet season. This part of Thailand serves as an entry point for bringing in large shipments of these drugs and have usually been concentrated between Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom provinces. However, the floods which have been occurring appear to slow this activity down at the price of damaging infrastructure.

Since the last time this part of Thailand was examined in December 2017; little appears to have changed in terms of types of activity occurring, with the seizure of 11.1m Yaba pills in Nakhom Phanom province providing recent proof to that. However, there have been major developments this week.

SIGACTS

6. 19 JAN 2018: Leader of Illegal Logging Gang Arrested in Khon Kaen

Officials from the FPOC have arrested who they believe to be the master-mind or a key coordinator of the Phayung logging gang. Thawatchai Raksasil, 33, and his aide were arrested in Khon Kaen using arrest warrants and were brought to the Natural Resources and Environment Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Police. They reportedly confessed to being the principle coordinators within the gang. The gang is believed to be the largest Phayung logging gang in the country and possibly transnational in scope.

COMMENT. The centre'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. Efforts by this Task Force have indeed seen a number of arrests including the recent arrest of 43 Cambodian Nationals linked to this illegal logging operation on 26 JAN 17 in Nakhon Ratchasima province – shown below – this group appears to have been well-resourced, supported and willing to engage in skirmishes with authorities in order to avoid arrest. COMMENT ENDS.

 

7. 20 JAN 2018: Leader of Illegal Logging Gang Arrested in Khon Kaen

Police have arrested a suspected wildlife trafficking kingpin said to be behind much of the illegal trade in Asia for over a decade. The arrest of Boonchai Bach – also known as Bach Van Minh – a Thai of Vietnamese descent, cracks open the "largest wildlife crime case ever" in the country according to reports used for logging this incident.

Boonchai, 40, was arrested in Nakhon Phanom in connection with the smuggling of 14 rhinoceros horns worth US$1 million from Africa into Thailand last month, in a case that also implicated a local airport official and Chinese and Vietnamese couriers. Boonchai has been allegedly running a large trafficking network on the Thai-Laos border that spread into Vietnam. He and his family have played a key role in a criminal syndicate that smuggled poached items including ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, tigers, lions and other rare and endangered species.

COMMENT. Thailand is a transit hub for trafficked wildlife mostly destined for China. Rhinoceros horns, pangolin scales, turtles, and other exotic wildlife are still repeatedly smuggled through the country. Incidents logged relating to this kind of trafficking have seen the main transit point being Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok; shown below. However, there have been instances of live Pangolins and Pangolin scales coming through Thailand from Malaysia. Up until this incident, little has been known as to whom led this network and how capable it is. Background reporting that has since been found from The Guardian, Boonchai belongs to a network whose connections span across Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Along with his brother overseeing operations in Vietnam, Boonchai is a key member of one of the largest and most well-established illegal wildlife trafficking networks in the region. COMMENT ENDS.

 

WEATHER EFFECTS

 

COMMENT. The above forecast and a weather warning provided by the Thai Meteorological Department do indicate some severe weather conditions are anticipated. 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.

ASSESSMENT

Thailand’s overall situation appears to have decreased only slightly this week; remaining between MEDIUM-HIGH and will PROBABLY remain at this level for the remainder of January. While the weather has been the main factor in preventing the kinds of incidents seen across Thailand this week, the forecast over the next 7 days will be unlikely to hinder anything next week.

Incidents which have been happening in Bangkok and around the country indicate there will be POTENTIAL for incidents which have been largely absent in prior reports – namely protests against the NCPO – to increase. The success of the People Go Network to not just carry out their protest but also successfully have an injunction handed down against the Royal Thai Police will POSSIBLY be used as a guide for other groups wishing to conduct protests mainly in Bangkok and around the country to a lesser extent.

The political developments which have occurred in Bangkok this week will PROBABLY undermine the chances for the election to be held in November this year. The decision by the NLA to use the 90-day delay clause on the Organic Act for the Election of MP’s will PROBABLY see the election pushed back to February 2019. While this move would appear to be outside of the NCPO’s and PM Chan-o-cha’s control, the responsibility for this delay will PROBABLY be levelled at them. While this will damage PM Chan-o-cha’s credibility – as this would appear to be the third time the election has been delayed – the NLA’s decision appears to have covered the Organic Bill on Senators from criticism as this bill would help to cement the power of the NCPO and wider Thai military after the election.

The arrests surrounding the illegal Phayung loggers and wildlife trafficker Boonchai in Bangkok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Phanom provinces will only have a POTENTIAL impact on the trading of these items overall; the size of the networks and international connections will be outside of the jurisdiction of Thai authorities. However, within Thailand it is PROBALE these arrests will lead to significant leads across the country and will see numerous arrests across Bangkok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Phanom provinces. These arrests will POSSIBLY comprise of low level members of these networks as well as corrupt Thai officials.

References

N.B – Due to issues with referencing software, in-text citations are not possible at this time.For the sake of efficiency and to avoid potential misunderstandings, references mentioning myself or the Intelligence Fusion platform are built upon the collection and logging of incidents based on the combination of numerous open sources such as mainstream media, social media and open source mapping tools.

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