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Cablegate: Political Temperature in Chiang Mai On the Rise

VZCZCXRO2543
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHCHI #0168/01 3091115
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 041115Z NOV 08 ZFF4
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0879
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0954

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000168

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR PHU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PROP KDEM TH
SUBJECT: POLITICAL TEMPERATURE IN CHIANG MAI ON THE RISE

REF: A. BANGKOK 3280 (X-PM THAKSIN ADDRESSES)
B. CHIANG MAI 147 (PM'S VISIT)
C. CHIANG MAI 145 (VIOLENT CLASH)
D. BANGKOK 2546 (PAD PROTESTS CHALLENGE)

CHIANG MAI 00000168 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly.

------------------------------------
Summary and Comment
------------------------------------

1. (SBU) Over the past six days, a bombing targeting a key
People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leader, and the siege of
the Chiang Mai Thai Public Broadcasting Service station by
pro-government supporters have upped the political tension in
Chiang Mai. Though the bomb did not injure anyone, and the
siege ended after nearly 12 hours, contacts tell us they expect
there will be more unrest in the coming months, and the police
expressed frustration at their inability to prosecute supporters
of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).

2. (SBU) Comment: These incidents, and those described in Refs
B and C, underline the tension that exists between opposing
political groups, not just in Bangkok, but in the government's
stronghold in northern Thailand. They also highlight the ends
to which these groups are willing to go to get their point
across. With the upcoming ASEAN Summit due to take place in
Chiang Mai next month, the reported impunity of the UDD, and the
social conflicts at the heart of Thailand's political
instability unlikely to be resolved anytime in the near future,
we should expect these incidents not to be the last of their
kind. End Summary and Comment.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
--------------------------------
UDD Seizes TV Station Over Allegations of Bribes to Join Rally
--------------------------------------------- --------------
--------------------------------

3. (U) On the morning of Sunday, November 2, the Thai Public
Broadcasting Service aired a report alleging that participants
from Chiang Mai in the November 1 rally in Bangkok addressed by
former Prime Minister Thaksin (Ref A) had been paid to attend.
In response, members of the "Love Chiang Mai 51" group of the
UDD, the same group that clashed with the PAD several weeks ago
(Ref C), stormed TPBS' Chiang Mai affiliate on November 3
shortly before noon. Some of the 100 protestors were armed with
bamboo poles and steel pipes. They broke through the outer
perimeter of the grounds, and surrounded all the inner exits to
the building, though they did not/not enter it.

4. (U) Twice during the siege, provincial and local police
authorities unsuccessfully tried to secure the UDD's agreement
to allow the women and children inside the TPBS station to
leave. The UDD refused to let anyone depart the premises until
they had an audience with the TPBS national director, whom they
wanted to come to Chiang Mai for the meeting. Instead, he sent
the chief political news editor. After several hours of
negotiations, the stand-off ended when TPBS agreed to release a
public statement apologizing to the members of "Love Chiang Mai
51" who were affected by Sunday's report, and who attended the
rally voluntarily. As part of the settlement, the TPBS Director
also agreed to make a similar statement on-air, which he did at
11:00 pm on Monday November 3, and again on the morning of
November 4. Furthermore, TPBS agreed not to press charges for
trespassing and other offenses against the UDD.

5. (U) Contacts confirmed to us on Tuesday November 4 that
TPBS' Chiang Mai affiliate resumed only partial operations today
out of concern for the safety of staff, some of whom are working
at the TPBS building, with the rest working out of an
unspecified location elsewhere in the city. Meanwhile, the
pro-Thaksin community radio station in Chiang Mai broadcast
vocal criticism of what it calls TPBS' "insincere" apology, and
hinted at unspecified action to follow-up on yesterday's siege,
which did not end until the TPBS director broadcast his apology
at 11:00 pm on Monday, Nov. 3. These contacts also told us that
although UDD supporters are no longer present at TPBS, the tents
they erected on November 3 in anticipation of a more prolonged
stand-off are still up.

6. (SBU) The Vice Governor involved in the negotiations told us
he was concerned that there would be more unrest to come.
Separately, police contacts told us they are frustrated by their
inability to take action against the UDD, particularly when PAD
supporters who seized a pro-government television station in
August (Ref D) were arrested and tried. (Note: The local UDD
groups reportedly enjoy the backing of high-level regional
police officials.)


CHIANG MAI 00000168 002.2 OF 002


--------------------------------
Bombing Targets PAD
--------------------------------

7. (SBU) Separately, a bomb exploded on the evening of
Wednesday, October 29, severely damaging a car belonging to the
owner of the local pro-PAD community radio station -- the same
station that was involved in the violent clash between PAD and
UDD supporters several weeks ago (Ref C). Initial evidence
collected by the police indicates the bombing may have been
staged, but it is still too early to tell. We will continue to
monitor both this investigation and any follow-up to Monday's
siege of TPBS.

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Bangkok.
MORROW

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