Editor’s Blog: Is Thailand safe?
Political discontent in Thailand has been rumbling on for over two years, but the past six weeks have bought the simmering conflict into sharper international focus.
With five explosions claiming the life of at least one commuter – as well as injuring scores of others – earlier this week the, to date peaceful, Bangkok protests have taken on a new urgency.
As a result, authorities around the world – including those in Britain, Australia and the United States – have advised their citizens against all but the most essential travel to Thailand’s capital.
So how dangerous has this once tranquil paradise become?
The red shirt protestors – officially entitled the National United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) – have been campaigning for the dissolution of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government for over two years.
Seeking new parliamentary elections, the group hopes to see the reinstatement of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - who many believe to be receptive to their rural agenda.
To date their methods – driven by widespread Buddhist beliefs – have been largely peaceful; protestors have occupied areas downtown Bangkok for the past six weeks, building barricades, organising marches and pouring their blood under the gates of parliamentary buildings.
As such protest leaders vehemently deny allegations red shirt protestors were behind this week’s bombings – in which grenades were fired from M-79 launchers at the skytrain station at Saladaeng.
In an attempt to stop the escalating violence, red-shirt leader Veera Musikapong has offered a fresh round of talks, stating parliament must be dissolved within 30 days; itself a compromise on previous calls from an immediate dissolution.
“After the house dissolution, the government will have another 60 days to prepare for elections. In total it will be 90 days,” said Mr Musikapong. “But the government has to stop threatening people and show responsibility for what has happened.”
The proposal came shortly after the army commander-in-chief, General Anupong Paojinda, told his commanders he would not use force to evict the protesters.
While the offer is examined by the incumbent administration, protestors continue to occupy areas of Bangkok – but what does this mean for foreign visitors?
According to Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), not a great deal; with chief executive Greg Duffell keen to reassure industry stakeholders Thailand remains open for business.
“There is obviously concern in some source markets about safety and security issues,” he said. “This is entirely understandable. Some governments have issued travel advisories that are likely to prompt would-be visitors to delay their travel plans to Thailand or, indeed, make alternative arrangements.
“It is important for our industry friends and colleagues overseas to appreciate the protests have not impacted in any major way upon our daily lives in Bangkok.
“Our message is clear and straightforward. If you have scheduled a holiday or business event in Thailand then there is no reason to change your plans.”
The tourism body was also quick to point out both city airports - Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi - are operating as normal, despite the protests.
To an extent the British Foreign Office falls into line with this advice.
While suggesting Brits avoid “all but essential travel to the city of Bangkok”, this advice does not apply to passengers transiting Bangkok airport on their way to other destinations in Thailand or internationally.
What’s more, only a small area in the centre of Bangkok if presently inaccessible.
Protestors have occupied the main Silom business district – largely along Thanon Ratchadamnoen Nok – with negligible impact on other areas of the city.
The backpackers’ haven at Khaosan Road, for example, has seen only sporadic involvement in the recent waves of protest.
So the message appears to be one of caution.
Those merely using Thailand as a waypoint on a journey to the Far East, or as an entry point to the north of south of the country, have nothing to fear.
Those heading for the city are advised to steer well clear of the troubled areas, but should otherwise be unaffected.