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Thailand Steps Up Security for APEC Summit - 2003-10-16


Thailand has carpeted its capital in security for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, taking unprecedented and elaborate precautions to thwart any terrorist activity during the forum.

About 2,000 policemen are being posted at hotels where world leaders are staying, another 900 officers will be sent to escort leaders' motorcades, and 120 police will guard leaders and their spouses. There are 1,300 security officers reinforcing airport security. The Thai Air Force is deploying two F-16 fighter jets to accompany each APEC leader's aircraft as it enters Thai air space. Commercial planes will be ordered to keep their distance.

This unprecedented security is to protect the 21 government leaders coming to the Thai capital between October 20 and 22 for the meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum.

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, says their safety, and that of the public, is top priority. "We have gone to great lengths to make sure that every detail is not overlooked, especially in the area of security measures," he said.

With the terrorist bombings a year ago in Bali that claimed 202 lives, many of them foreign tourists, and the August bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that claimed 12 more, security is topping the agenda of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Sihasak of the Foreign Ministry says the leaders can be confident about safety during APEC. "Everything that needs to be done, we have done it, to give everyone the confidence that we'll have a successful meeting in Bangkok," he said.

The U.S. presidential plane, Air Force One, will only be accessible to its own security team, while other leaders' aircraft will be guarded by local security. Terrorism expert from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Panitan Watanayagorn, says cooperation between Thai intelligence and APEC members has helped shore up security.

"Of course, there are advanced teams of many countries sending into Thailand a few weeks and a few days ago to work and cooperate with the local Thai security officers," he said. "That probably includes the intelligence, and special operators, just to make sure that the meeting goes smoothly."

Several hotels hosting APEC leaders have placed special anti-car bombing blocks around their peripheries to mitigate the effects of car bombs. The blocks can stop an explosives-laden vehicle weighing up to six tons.

But no matter how many precautions are taken, Mr. Panitan says it is very difficult to stop a suicide bomber. "On the activities of suicide bombers, this is quite new to Thailand, as you may notice, local officers have not had much experience countering … suicide bombs," he said. "This is one of the most difficult counter-terrorist activities you can imagine."

All international and local schools will be closed for one week starting Friday, and Mr. Thaksin has declared a one-week holiday for most civil servants in order to lighten traffic.

Even taxi drivers have been asked to participate in the security awareness campaign. Local drivers were asked to report any suspicious characters they may encounter. Even with the extra safety measures, many ordinary Thais are uncomfortable that the APEC meeting is in Bangkok, fearing it will be a magnet for terrorists. Khun Suwanee, who works in a five-star hotel, says her establishment has taken all precautions, but she is afraid nothing can stop someone who is intent on staging an attack.

"Because if everyone so scared of [terrorism] we don't do anything. We don't do our normal life, we don't do the [APEC] meeting… then we will go back to paralyze everything," she said. "And definitely the whole world will collapse because the economy cannot go. So looking on that side, we have to understand, we cannot stop the world from war." While that may be true, Mr. Thaksin is hoping he can stop any threat of terrorist activity during APEC.

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