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6 May 2010

Review of Security in Bangkok‏ for UADC

From the UADC Mailing list.

Dear members of the Asian Debate Community,

The UADU EXCO has decided to conduct an inspection of the sites for the 1st UADC to ensure the safety of our participants. EXCO representatives to the said trip were Gica Mangahas and Luang P.

Attached is the take of Gica in particular. I thank Gica, Lp, and the organizers for making this inspection possible.

See you all in Bangkok!


Dino de Leon
Convenor, De La Salle Worlds
Acting Chair, United Asian Debate Union

Like many other members of the debate community, I have also been concerned with the political developments in Thailand in recent weeks. Accompanying this concern was a degree of uncertainty regarding the ability of Assumption's organizing committee to handle a large event in the midst of a messy scenario, particularly in ensuring the safety of all the participants. Thankfully, today they were gracious enough to bring myself and LP on a visit of their venues and answered some of our questions about their plans. After today's six-hour site visit and discussion, I feel very assured that the tournament will be safe for everyone.

The Chaleena Hotel
The Chaleena Hotel is a large but modest hotel in a quiet part of town. It is not on a main avenue, but on a side street off the Ramkamheng thoroughfare (Soi 65). Across the hotel is mechanics shop, a little way down they have chicken wings and other things on sale. There is nothing amazing about the location, as it is definitely out of the way of any major monuments or tourist locations. This is a less-wealthy, middle to lower-middle class part of town. Over my numerous visits to Thailand in the past ten years, this was my first time to go anywhere near this area.
Just to illustrate the distance a little better, to get to Chaleena I needed to get down at the terminal station of the Bangkok LRT/Sky Tain Siam Line, about seven stops from the city center. Once at On Nut Station, we took a 35 minute taxi ride (without traffic) even farther away. Although this point about distance has been stressed in the past by the organizers, I understand better why this is their main defense; from a metropolitan Thai/foreign perspective the hotel is in the middle of nowhere. Not only has the area never been targeted by protesters by the past, I can see why this will continue to be the case: there is nothing much of interest here to catch the public or government's attention. The area is not home to any government ministries, commercial hubs, elite mansions, or military bases.

There is a police station ten minutes away by car, and a hospital ten to fifteen minutes away. The military bases are on the completely opposite side of town, in the Don Muang area (which many of you will recognize as the site of a clash last week). Being far from the military base in this situation is a good thing, as it makes the area that much less likely to be a hotspot.

Apart from its positioning, the hotel itself is in a compound of its own. The new wing that will house most of the debaters is set back behind the main hotel, separated from it by an alley. All social events - the opening dinner, break night, and championship dinner - will be held in the hotel. From break night onwards, all events will be held in the hotel. I fully expect that upon arrival, participants will be more entertained by the bright gold and hieroglyphic-laden interiors of the new wing (it's Egyptian themed!!) than concerned for their safety.

The Route from Chaleena to the Airport
The hotel isn't far from the highway to the airport. It's about another thirty to forty minutes drive away. You'll pass 2-3 military checkpoints on your way there and on your way back to the city, so evidently the army is taking extra precautions with those entering and exiting the city. There has been no apparent interest at all for protesters of any color to head in this direction. As for the road itself, there is nothing much to say about it. You will mainly see some low buildings and a lot of grass.

This was my third visit to the airport in the past six days. There has been absolutely no disruption in services, and no disruption appears to be forthcoming. In the very unlikely event that your flight is cancelled due to any disruptions, or your plane reroutes or returns home instead of landing, the organizing committee in Thailand wont be able to help you. If, however, because of this disruption you wont be able to leave Bangkok immediately after the tournament, the organizing committee are committed to finding you a place to stay and helping you as much as they can.

The Route from Chaleena to the Debate Venues
Getting from Chaleena to Assumption is similar to the route from Chaleena to the airport. There is a different route to Assumption that can also be taken should the main highway for some reason be shut down. The trip from Chaleena to Assumption is about an hour. Because the hotel area is already on the edge of Bangkok proper, the trip to Assumption does not pass by any protest sites, major monuments, government offices, or (again), anything of note. Most of the time spent on the road will not be in the city. As the route to the airport is similar, at a certain point pretty much all you will see is grass.

On my route from Chaleena to the airport and to Assumption, I didn't see a single identifiable protester. If you are very cautious and only stick to these three locations, there isn't a bad chance that you will come to Thailand and never see a red-shirt.

Assumption University

For those who saw Assumption Bang-Na in Worlds 08, the place is as grand as ever. The school is 5 km from the highway. There are security guards posted all along the exits and main buildings of the school. Any meals served while we're there will be on-campus. There is an in-house 7/11 and mini-mall with restaurants, so there should be no need for any participants to wander around outside. If participants do wander about, there is also not very much to see apart from grass and some dormitories. The school is also 15 minutes away from a hospital, but it also has its own 15-bed infirmary.

Neither of the hospitals I've mentioned so far are likely to be housing wounded soldiers from clashes, given their considerable distance away from the protests and bases, and thus subsequently be the site of a red-shirt raid.

As a whole, I do not believe that any participants coming to UADC have anything to fear from the situation in Thailand. In recent news, the protests are beginning to thaw at last. Hopefully this positive trend will continue, and the need for concern be dispelled altogether.

Gica Mangahas
IV AB Social Sciences, AB Development Studies
Ateneo de Manila University

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