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Thailand to Clean Up Bangkok Streets Before APEC  Summit - 2003-09-29

Thailand began Monday repatriating more than 600 illegal Cambodian migrants as part of a larger campaign to clean up Bangkok's streets in time for next month's meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok.

Three C-130 cargo planes are taking two trips each to return the first batch of 621 illegal migrants to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, police Colonel Watchara Sungwornyothin said, noting that nearly 50 illegal Cambodia migrants were being detained daily.

The police colonel said he was unsure if the government would continue to airlift the illegal migrants, or send them back to Cambodia by land.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has ordered the authorities to rid the streets of the estimated 10,000 homeless children, adults, beggars and prostitutes within the next two weeks as part of a campaign to clean up the city ahead of the APEC summit.

Twenty one heads of state are expected to attend the economic summit on October 20-21.

Mr. Thaksin is pulling out all the stops to transform the normally polluted, overcrowded, traffic-jammed bustling city of Bangkok into a clean and orderly city by cleaning up the streets of beggars and homeless people and encouraging locals to take holidays during the summit and leave the city.

But more importantly, Mr. Thaksin is concentrating on security issues to thwart any attempts by terrorist organizations to disrupt the economic forum.

The Prime Minister said he will be completely upfront about security issues and will not take any chances when it comes to national security.

Critics of the government's homeless policy say rounding up the homeless before the APEC summit will only bring about a cosmetic change, not a lasting one.

Somchai Homlaor of the human right's group Asia Forum says ridding the streets of homeless and illegal immigrants won't solve the problems that put them there in the first place.

"I think the way they do [it] is very inhuman and it is very insensitive to the feelings of the human rights level and especially to the people of Cambodia," he said.

A Thai army general told one news agency that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was upset with Thailand for publicizing the repatriation of the illegal Cambodia migrants.

The problem of the homeless and illegal immigrants has worsened in Thailand since the Asian economic crisis in 1997.

Many people from Thailand's provinces come to Bangkok in search of jobs and a better way of life. Since the economic crisis, larger numbers of these people have ended up on the streets.