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‘No backroom deals’ in Veera release

Posted by pakin On July - 3 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The release of Veera Somkhwamkid, who was imprisoned in Cambodia for more than three years for espionage, was unconditional and Phnom Penh had not sought any favours in return, the Foreign Affairs Ministry insists.

Permanent secretary for foreign affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the release was not made in response to Cambodia’s request for the release of 14 migrant workers being held in Thailand on visa fraud charges.

“Cambodia has not asked for any favours,” Mr Sihasak said, adding that Thailand appreciated Veera’s release since it reflected “goodwill from Cambodia”.

He said he had discussed several issues with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong during his visit to Phnom Penh earlier this week.

A request by military junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha for Veera’s release was among those topics.

“Marking the first anniversary of the cremation of Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk, a royal pardon was granted to Veera,” Mr Sihasak said. “On behalf of the Thai government and the NCPO, I appreciate the Cambodian decision and am grateful for it.”

Earlier yesterday, acting permanent secretary for justice Charnchao Chaiyanukit said Thailand and Cambodia have signed a prisoner transfer agreement. The case of the 14 detained Cambodians would be covered by this agreement.

The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh would have to forward Cambodia’s request for the inmates’ release to the Foreign Ministry, which would then send it on to the Justice Ministry. The 14 would be freed once the Corrections Department received the list, Mr Charnchao said.

However, Corrections Department deputy director-general Kobkiat Kasiwiwat said an initial check showed that only 13 Cambodians have been detained in Sa Kaeo province for using fake visas.

Authorities have been instructed to verify the number and send the names of the detainees to Cambodia for double-checking.

“Cambodian migrant workers play an important role in the Thai economy, so we have to take good care of them the same way we treat Thai labourers,” Mr Sihasak said.

He said he also discussed the Preah Vihear temple issue with Hun Sen and Hor Namhong during the visit. Both countries reaffirmed their compliance with last year’s International Court of Justice ruling, which handed a large part of the temple land to Cambodia.

Chulalongkorn University political science professor Chaiwat Khamchu said he believed Cambodia released Veera because it did not want to be shown as hostile toward the junta.

Veera’s release should pave the way for the two countries to cooperate more closely on labour issues, he added.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, said the coup has actually improved Thai-Cambodian relations.

The Cambodian premier has gone out of his way not to antagonise the NCPO, in contrast with his actions against the government led by former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

“The bottom line is that Hun Sen cannot afford to incur the wrath of the Thai army after the coup, when the generals now have absolute power and a bad history vis-a-vis the Hun Sen regime,” Mr Thitinan said.

Veera returned to Thailand yesterday with a Thai delegation led by Mr Sihasak.

“I will continue to monitor corruption,” Veera said on his arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport.

“I forgive those who harmed me. We still have a lot of work to do.”

From the airport, Veera was taken by immigration police to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) to hear eight charges police have lodged against him in connection with the seizure of Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports in 2008 by the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Pol Lt Col Somkiat Tantikanokporn, a CSD investigator, said investigators did not bring a charge of terrorism in connection with the airport seizures against Veera because public prosecutors previously dropped the charge against him.

After hearing the charges, Veera was released on a 100,000-baht bail bond. Veera was ordered to report to police for further questioning next Wednesday, deputy national police chief Pol Gen Somyos Phumphanmuang said.

A military source said Gen Prayuth used his long-standing ties with Cambodian military leaders to help secure Veera’s release.

The source said that after the May 22 coup, Veera’s wife, Pis-umphai, had sent a letter seeking help from Gen Prayuth. The source said the coup leader then ordered state officials to find ways to secure Veera’s release.

Gen Surawat Butrwong, chief of the army’s Neighbouring Countries Coordination Centre, had played a key role in the quick release of Veera, the source said. Gen Surawat has close ties with Cambodian military leaders and Hun Sen.

NCPO spokeswoman Sirichan Nathong said Gen Prayuth welcomed Veera’s release.

One-stop-centre to end trade in illegal labour

Posted by pakin On June - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

SAMUT SAKHON – A new centre to end the abuse of illegal workers by properly regulating migrant labour opened on Monday in Samut Sakhon as the first step to end human trafficking in the country

Businesses in Samut Sakhon rely on a huge migant workforce, much of it illegal.

The new, full-time centre in Muang district provides a one-stop service for migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia staying illegally in the province to come out in the open and register legally with the authorities.

It is located at the provincial social security office in Muang district, and open from 8.30am to 4.30pm everyday.

It can handle 2,000 migrants a day, officials said, and 1,000 illegal workers already lined up for registration when the doors opened this morning.

The launch was witnessed by Gen Sirichai Disthakul, the army chief-of-staff in charge of labour issues and human trafficking, permanent secretary for labour Jirasak Sukhonthachat and Myanmar ambassador   Tin Win.

Samut Sakhon has an estimated 80,000 illegal labourers from the three countries, according to Labour Ministry figures last year. The province relies on foreign workforce to drive its lucrative fishery industry.

Under the plan outlined out by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), illegal workers will be given temporary permits to work in Thailand. Their names will be sent for verification in 60 days, and workers passing the procedure can apply for permanent work permits by using their passport, Mr Jirasak said.

NCPO chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Friday that one-stop centres will be opened in another 22 coastal provinces in need of migrant workers on July 7, and in the rest in the country by July 15.

The move is part of the military regime’s plans to end the activities of human traffickers,  including corrupt government officials, who extort money from people in the three neighbouring countries in exchange for smuggling them into Thailand and delivering them to places where they have been promised jobs.

The Myanmar envoy supported the plan and said the new centre will make it easier for people in Myanmar to land needed work in Thailand.

However, some business operators remained sceptical, saying migrant abuse would not end until Thailand fully liberalises the labour market.

Thailand and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will open up the labour sector after the launch of the Asean Economic Community  at the end of 2015, but the free flow of workers will be limited to skilled and professional labourers.

The junta opened temporary coordination centres on the border in Sa Kaeo, Trat and Chanthaburi provinces on Thursday to facilitate the return of about 200,000 Cambodians who fled in fear of rumours of a crack down by the junta.

Another tempoarary centre at the Chong Jom border crossing with Cambodia  in Kap Choeng district of Surin province was officially opened on Monday. These coordination centres will close after the provinces set up one-stop service centres.

According to the ministry, Thailand has about 2.2 million legal migrant workers. The Thailand Development Research Institute said there another 900,00 illegal workers in the country before the exodus.

Cambodian workers who last week fled Thailand en masse have begun trickling back into the country as concerns over a harsh military crackdown are easing, officials say.

Col Phichit Meekhunsut, commander of a special task force unit under the 12th Military Ranger Regiment, yesterday visited a border checkpoint in Sa Kaeo’s Aranyaprathet district, which was set up by soldiers, police and customs officers to check on Cambodian migrants returning to the country.

More than 100 Cambodians entered the country yesterday through the Aranyaprathet border from the Cambodian town of Poipet, he said.

Col Phichit said he had instructed Aranyaprathet immigration officers to assist the returning workers.

Speaking after crossing the border yesterday, Oam Sarei, 28, said he left Thailand 10 days ago for fear of being arrested by Thai troops following rumours of a looming crackdown.

After arriving home, he said he had heard the assurances made by Thai troops and Cambodian authorities that there would be no crackdown, so he decided to come back.

He said he was issued with a temporary border pass which limits his stay in the country to seven days, during which time he will need to apply for migrant worker status with the Labour Ministry.

Oam said he believed many more Cambodians would return to Thailand.

Meanwhile, the number of Cambodians leaving Thailand via the Aranyaprathet border pass continued to thin yesterday. Tens of thousands of Cambodian nationals have crossed through the checkpoint in the past 10 days. Soldiers and state officials visited the Rong Kluea border market to ramp up a campaign to allay fears of a labour crackdown.

In Surin, 316 Cambodian workers travelled back to their country through the Chong Jom-Osamed border checkpoint in Kap Choeng district on Thursday, a sharp decrease from the thousands who fled earlier in the week.

Cambodian troops reportedly provided 30 lorries to transport them home.

Thai officials, meanwhile, set up makeshift tents near the border in Kap Choeng to proceed with the documentation process for workers returning to work in Thailand

Army fights labour fears on new front

Posted by pakin On June - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Sirichai heads off Myanmar worker panic

The junta yesterday moved to calm down panicked alien labourers, including the bulk of Thailand’s foreign workforce from Myanmar, reiterating that there were no harsh crackdowns being planned.

Gen Sirichai Disthakul, chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) sub-committee on transnational labour, yesterday led a team to visit employers and migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, a province with one of the largest populations of migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar.

The visit was apparently aimed at curbing problems facing business operators who were losing workers and whose businesses could be damaged by sudden labour shortages, both legal and illegal.

Gen Sirichai asked for cooperation from employers in Samut Sakhon to urgently report to the NCPO the number and names of the Myanmar nationals they were hiring, either legally and illegally.

He said it was part of the NCPO’s measures to manage foreign labourers.

Gen Sirichai said the NCPO plans to pilot its migrant labour management policy in Samut Sakhon and Ranong provinces. They were conducting a survey for the plan which includes residential zoning arrangements and public health services.

Gen Sirichai said Thailand still lacks effective measures to solve foreign worker problems and unity among government agencies to manage the problems.

“We insist that there’s no policy to crack down on foreign workers,” Gen Sirichai said.

NCPO chief Prayuth Chan-ocha also insisted yesterday the NCPO was “regulating” the employers hiring migrant workers and it was crucial to abide by the law by formally registering the migrant labourers who currently live and work in Thailand.

NCPO deputy spokesman Winthai Suvaree also insisted the NCPO did not have any policy to crack down on migrant workers but would have to re-regulate the migrant labour that had been a problem plaguing Thailand for more than a decade.

Government agencies were enacting the principle of re-regulating migrant labour in line with humanitarian principles and international standards, Col Winthai said.

Both employers and migrant workers should benefit from this effort to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers, he said.

The most urgent issues facing migrant labour include the abuse of child labour, human trafficking, and the corrupt actions of some state officials and labour brokers profiting from illegal businesses associated with migrant workers, Col Winthai said.

Employers of migrant labourers are simply required now to carry on with business as usual while taking the best care of their workers, he said.

The chief aim of the NCPO’s move to re-regulate migrant labour is to correctly register migrant workers so they can live and work in Thailand and receive proper work benefits including health care, he said.

The Samut Sakhon Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, relevant clubs and associations yesterday also signed a memorandum of understanding not to hire children or illegal workers.

Gen Prayuth had previously vowed to finish registering all alien workers living in Thailand in one year.

There are currently 2,233,015 legal migrant workers in Thailand — 1,741,771 Myanmar nationals, 95,888 from Laos, and 395,356 from Cambodia, said Thanich Numnoi, deputy director-general of the Employment Department.

Of the total, about 1.8 million workers had entered Thailand illegally previously but later went through nationality verification and received permission to live and work temporarily here, Mr Thanich said.

After his visit to Samut Sakhon, Gen Sirichai said the province was conforming properly with the NCPO’s migrant labour management policy and should be used as a model for other provinces.

But he warned that influential figures who earn money from illegal businesses related to migrant labour should stop, or else face harsh action.

Ms Kamolwan, a construction firm owner who asked that her last name be withheld, said her 100 Cambodian workers informed her that they had to go back to Cambodia but promised to return later.

Her small firm was suffering greatly from a labour shortage, she said.

Rumours that some Cambodians had been detained and physically assaulted emerged about a month ago, she said.

“Many of my Cambodian workers insisted their parents were very concerned about their safety and that was why they had to go home,” Ms Kamolwan said.

She urged the government to open a new round of migrant worker registration to turn illegal migrant workers into legal ones, saying the current policy of requiring alien workers to seek visas and work permits requires a lot of time and money.

Sanguan Saengwongkij, vice-president of the association of rubber wood operators in the eastern provinces, said the Cambodian worker exodus had led to several businesses in Rayong’s Klaeng district having to close temporarily.

A state official in Sa Kaeo province who asked not to be named said that the exodus of Cambodian migrant workers had mainly been caused by rumours spread by telephone from Cambodia that Thai soldiers had been capturing and murdering Cambodians.

If the news of the NCPO’s policy to re-regulate migrant labour prompted Cambodian workers to flee, the question was why illegal migrant workers of other nations were not affected by the same news in the same way, said the same official.

Jeerasak Sukhonthachart, permanent secretary for labour in his capacity as deputy chairman of the NCPO’s sub-committee on transnational labour, said the exodus of Cambodian workers has begun to take a toll on businesses.