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Cablegate: Pm's Visit to Chiang Mai: Not As Smooth As Silk

VZCZCXRO7763
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHCHI #0147/01 2770943
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 030943Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0852
INFO RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0924

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000147

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR PHU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SOCI KDEM TH
SUBJECT: PM'S VISIT TO CHIANG MAI: NOT AS SMOOTH AS SILK

REF: CHIANG MAI 145 (VIOLENT CLASH)

CHIANG MAI 00000147 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly.

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

1. (SBU) Despite concerted efforts by provincial and local
officials, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat's October 1-2 visit
to Chiang Mai met with some unwelcome disruptions. Meanwhile,
tensions between the anti-government People's Alliance for
Democracy (PAD), and the pro-government United Front of
Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) that manifested themselves
in the September 28 clash (reftel) remain high.

2. (SBU) Comment: Though Chiang Mai -- which is former PM
Thaksin's home province -- and northern Thailand in general
remain strongholds of the governing People's Power Party (PPP),
the September 28 clash between the PAD and UDD, and the PAD's
ability to disrupt PM Somchai's visit make it clear that
anti-government forces in northern Thailand are not without the
ability to express their views, even if they do so in an
unorganized manner. While we would be surprised if the PPP or
its successor party suffered serious setbacks in northern
Thailand in a subsequent election, the PAD's ability to organize
in northern Thailand appears to be improving, and may pay some
dividends in future polls. End Summary and Comment.

--------------------------------------------- -----------------
Somchai Gets Off on the Right Foot, but...
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

3. (SBU) According to press reports and several Consulate
contacts, including a journalist who covered the PM's entire
visit, PM Somchai's arrival in Chiang Mai on the evening of
October 1 went off without a hitch. That trend continued into
the morning of October 2, when the PM met with supporters and
senior government officials from northern Thailand outside his
Chiang Mai residence, and during his stop in former PM Thaksin's
home district to pay homage to his wife Yaowapha's (Thaksin's
sister) ancestors. Most of the rest of the trip, however, was
anything but uneventful.

4. (SBU) The same journalist told us that at Chiang Mai's famous
Doi Suthep temple, two women were able to get close to the
heavily-guarded PM. One waved a plastic hand-clapper (commonly
used by PAD supporters) at him, and the other presented him with
two wrapped hand-clappers and a letter of protest. PM Somchai's
lunch at a well-known restaurant was also disrupted when he was
unexpectedly greeted by a group of approximately 20 men
appearing to be patrons at the restaurant, some of whom our
contact recognized as university lecturers and government
officials. The group waived their hand-clappers at him and
asked him about the status of former PM Thaksin's diplomatic
passport.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
What Happened to the PM's Protection?
--------------------------------------------- -------------

5. (SBU) According to one of Chiang Mai's vice governors, these
incidents were quite embarrassing, particularly given the
significant efforts made by police and Ministry of Interior
officials to ensure smooth sailing for the PM during his visit.
He told us the provincial governor's office earlier instructed
each of Chiang Mai's 22 district offices to mobilize as many as
200 to 500 pro-government supporters to welcome the PM at his
various stops on October 2. They were asked not to wear the
now-common yellow shirts (representing allegiance to the King)
for fear of being confused with yellow-shirted PAD supporters.

6. (SBU) Meanwhile, under the direction of the Region Five
Police Commissioner, who was a Police Academy classmate of
former PM Thaksin, police officials reportedly called on leaders
of the local pro-PAD and pro-UDD groups to appeal for calm, at
least long enough for the PM's visit to remain peaceful.
However, we noted the presence of police squads along with
groups of the red-shirted pro-UDD members, in addition to
supporters from outlying districts, at various locations the PM
visited.

7. (SBU) Media contacts told us the PM's interaction with his
entourage immediately prior to his departure left them with the
impression that the disruptions to his schedule had upset
Somchai. Moreover, a key local PAD leader noted that Somchai
could have been more embarrassed had he and his group followed
through with plans to "welcome" the PM. He told us they decided
not to go through with the plan due to what he called the
"premature" street demonstration by a competing PAD group on

CHIANG MAI 00000147 002.2 OF 002


Sunday, September 28 (Reftel), which led to the clash between
PAD and UDD supporters that evening, making any organized
activities to disrupt the PM's visit unsafe for the participants.

-------------------------
An Uneasy Truce
-------------------------

8. (SBU) Meanwhile, tensions between the pro-PAD and pro-UDD
groups that clashed on September 28 remain high. On Monday,
September 29, PAD supporters went to the police station to file
charges against the UDD group, which greeted them at the station
armed with swords. The police intervened, and no one was
injured, but both groups filed charges against the other
resulting from the September 28 confrontation. The UDD members
have been charged with assault, trespassing, and causing damage
to private property, while the PAD group faces charges of
assault, since some UDD members claim they too were injured in
the Sunday confrontation. On Tuesday September 30, the leaders
of both groups were summoned to the regional police headquarters
by the regional commissioner, who brokered an agreement not to
disrupt PM Somchai's visit. He was, however, unable to convince
them to drop the competing charges. We will continue to monitor
the situation.

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

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