Friday, January 30, 2009

Thailand approves law against seizing airports

Any individual caught after attempting to seize control of an international airport will face a fine from Bt500 (S$21) up to Bt10,000 (S$429) under a draft law approved by the Cabinet yesterday to protect airports from intruders.

"It's primarily for civil cases, as criminal cases could be prosecuted under criminal laws including the anti-terrorism ones," deputy director of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Wing Commander Prateep Wichittoe, said. The name of the law would be changed to encompass all international airports across the country, he added.

The law will empower airport security officers to disperse intruders, without having to wait for police. Aside from penalties for any damage, wrongdoers would also face criminal charges.

A draft of the Security and Security Measures for Suvarnabhumi Airport Act, will be sent to the Council of State for screening to prevent any exploitation of power by airports' security officers and police. It will then go to Parliament for approval.

The Transport Ministry, which oversees the Airports of Thailand, the operator of five international airports plus Don Mueang Airport (now a domestic facility), proposed the law following the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD)'s seizure of Suvarnabhumi Airport for 8 days in November and December. The drama rocked the confidence of investors and tourists.

The Bank of Thailand said direct and indirect damage exceeded Bt200 billion. Thai Airways International alone claims it lost up to Bt20 billion.

Investors and tourists were shocked as Suvarnabhumi was closed for 10 days, and hundreds of thousands tourists stranded in Bangkok and overseas.

Several industries, particularly frozen food and electronics, were hit hard by disrupted export activities. Many countries condemned Thailand for lack of preventive measures, even after protesters seized Phuket and Hat Yai airports in last August.

"We haven't yet finished with an estimate of damage," Prateep said. He insisted the authorities were collecting evidence to file charges against the PAD. He said the move was slow because it involved several agencies.

Prateep said the law would also empower AOT in handling illegal tour guides and taxis, which operate within the airport.

Under the draft law, the Transport Ministry said that shutting down airports resulted in serious damage to the economy and national image. Preventive security measures were necessary to prevent damage to lives, passengers' and airports' assets.

The transport minister will be empowered to issue ministerial regulations, as guided by the law, to protect airports. The Airports of Thailand chairman and directors, plus security officers will be able to detain violators, who must be sent to police within 24 hours.

The law allows the AOT to implement urgent measures, which require the installation of checkpoints to investigate and prevent outsiders from entering airports. Long-term measures include the installation of permanent checkpoints, as well as contingency planning and drills.

"These measures endorsed by the cabinet today will help us to regain the confidence of international investors," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, the government's spokesman.

"Foreigners are very concerned about the airports, sea ports and trains. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was repeatedly asked how the government will prevent such a blockade," he was quoted as saying by AFP.

No comments: