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Cablegate: Breakfast in Nan, Dinner in Dien Bien Phu

VZCZCXRO2162
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHVC
DE RUEHCHI #0208 3340626
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 300626Z NOV 06
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0342
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 0609
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 0381

UNCLAS CHIANG MAI 000208

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON LA VM TH
SUBJECT: BREAKFAST IN NAN, DINNER IN DIEN BIEN PHU

REF: CHIANG MAI 93 (GOLDEN TRIANGLE TO BECOME GOLDEN GATEWAY

1. Summary: Nan, a remote northern province that suffered
through some of the fiercest fighting during Thailand's
communist insurgency in the 1960s and 1970s, now aims to become
northern Thailand's "door to Indochina". Situated on the
shortest route between Hanoi and Bangkok, local officials
envision a time when their province will be the jumping off
point for road trips to Laos and northern Vietnam as well as a
symbol of reconciliation. End summary

2. During a recent Consulate visit to Nan, Provincial Governor
Prinya Panthong predicted a day when travelers will have
"breakfast in Nan, dinner in Dien Bien Phu". As a first step
to this goal, the Nan Chamber of Commerce set out Nov. 22 by
road for Dien Bien Phu, in northern Vietnam. Under current
road conditions the journey took two full days, but the 42
travelers returned optimistic about tourism possibilities and
the chance to connect with ethnic Tai speaking groups in the
Dien Bien Phu area. Camera crews from iTV and Channel 5 filmed
the ground-breaking journey for future broadcast.

3. With the neighboring provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai
focused on increased trade with China along the future highway
from Kunming to Bangkok (reftel), Gov. Prinya described to
Consulate visitors a different "cultural road" across Indochina.
In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang lies
only 152 kilometers east of the Nan border, a tantalizing but
deceptive distance considering that a traveler currently needs
nearly three hours to drive from the provincial capital to the
border point. Tourism ambitions are further hampered by the
fact that Laos does not currently permit third country nationals
to cross the border from Nan.

4. While the Chamber of Commerce journey transcended
international animosities from the Indochina war era, a memorial
in the province to Thailand's own insurgency signals
reconciliation within the country. Memories of Nan's history
as a former stronghold of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT)
were revived on December 11 last year when Gen. Surayud
Chulanont, then Privy Councilor and now appointed Prime
Minister, presided over the opening ceremony of the People's
History Building and the Lawa-Hmong Phu Payak Museum in Chaloem
Phrakiat district. The event and the government-financed
museum near the former CPT base commemorated the war during the
1970s and 1980s and honored those, including insurgents, who
died fighting. Surayud was invited to preside over the
ceremony because his father, Lt-Colonel Payom Chulanont or
"Comrade Khamtan", was a key communist cadre based in Nan.

5. The reappearance in the Thai political arena of several
former communist activists, including current Thai Rak Thai
acting party leader Chaturon Chaisaeng, combined with
sympathetic articles about Surayud's father, has led to renewed
discussion of the former insurgency. Surayud himself made a
connection between that era and today during a 2005 trip to the
southern provinces by pointing out that "Thailand had a problem
like this before. This will be the second time. The first time
was the communist movement. Simply put, there was injustice in
the country and it created conditions for communism to grow."


6. Comment: While most of the trade and investment excitement
in northern Thailand is focused on China, tiny Nan is ready to
take advantage of its history and location by turning toward its
Indochina neighbors and former enemies. AmCit development
experts working in the border region contend that the route is
"more promising" and "more likely" than the proposed road
through Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province. Although the
border crossing remains closed to third-country nationals for
now, a sign post reminds travelers that Luang Prabang is only
152 kilometers away, with China's Mengla 295 kilometers and Dien
Bien Phu 406 kilometers.

CAMP

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