Cablegate: Environmental Journalist Shot in Tsunami-Hit Area

Published: Thu 30 Jun 2005 09:25 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) SUMMARY: A reporter for a popular daily newspaper
survived an attempt on his life near his home in the
tsunami-affected province of Phang Nga on June 1. The attack
occurred following his publication of articles about land
encroachment on public forest lands by influential business
and political interests. The reporter tied increased illegal
logging activities to local businessmen, who he claimed were
taking advantage of lands vacated by villagers left homeless
by the tsunami. He said these local figures had ties to
national-level politicians. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) On June 22, Public Affairs and Political officers met
with Manop Ratanajaroonporn, a 10-year veteran of daily
Thai-language newspaper, Matichon (Opinion of the People).
Matichon is one of Thailand,s most respected papers, known
for balanced responsible reporting. Manop is an Embassy
3. (U) Manop described how on June 1 he was driving away from
his family home in Phang Nga, an area devastated by the
Tsunami just north of Phuket province. As he reached a
T-intersection in a wooded area, two pickup trucks blocked
the roads ahead. Immediately, 3 to 4 men climbed out of the
trucks armed with a shotgun and .45 caliber handguns,
according to Manop. As he jumped out the car, the gunmen
began firing. One bullet struck his thigh, but the
ex-special forces specialist managed to run into the
surrounding forest, even as the attackers continued firing.
High-level Attention, Local Inaction
4. (U) The incident was widely reported in the Thai media,
but Manop said he had not dared contact the local police as
he suspected they were involved. Instead, his editors
contacted officials at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in
Bangkok. As Manop was recuperating in a Phang Nga hospital,
both Minister of Justice Suwat Liptapanlop and Director
General of the MOJ's Department of Rights and Liberties
Protection Chanchao Chaiyanukit paid him a visit. Poloff
confirmed that the MOJ's Department of Special Investigations
(DSI) had opened an investigation into the incident and was
providing around-the-clock personal security for Manop.
5. (U) Media reports quoted Governor of Phang Nga Province
Anuwat Methiwiboonwut and the Regional Police Commissioner
promising a "vigorous" investigation, but no suspects were
named and no arrests have been made. Manop claims that he
suspects these officials were involved in the illegal
activities he had reported, and he does not expect them to
act decisively.
Reporting on Post-Tsunami Logging Angers Local Interests
--------------------------------------------- -----------
6. (U) Manop stated that the Director of DSI had said that
they had concluded that the shooting was not motivated by a
personal grudge, but by reports Manop had filed. DSI
contacts confirmed this assessment with Poloff.
7. (U) In particular, DSI suspects Manop,s reports on
illegal logging in parts of Phang Nga following the December
tsunami had angered local interests. In a series of articles
published earlier this year, Manop alleged that as some large
fishing interests had moved into forested areas to reclaim
fishing vessels washed inland by the waves, they felled trees
in large areas around the boats, using the recovery efforts
as an excuse for illegal logging activity. While individual
and family fishermen were wiped out by the disaster and
forced to relocate to refugee camps, larger fishing operators
had built an entirely new fishing pier on encroached land.
Manop cited one influential local businessman and politician
that had gone from 40 vessels before the tsunami to over 120
vessels in the six months following the tragedy.
Not Backing Down
8. (SBU) Since the shooting, Manop has been living in safe
houses and monasteries in the region. When he met with a
public affairs officer earlier in the month, he insisted on
coming to a neutral location, saying that he doesn,t trust
anyone. DSI officials seem to share Monop,s concerns, and
sent a rotating team of 4 armed bodyguards to escort him to
Bangkok to discuss his case on June 22.
9. (U) Manop repeated that he will not quit reporting on this
story. He said powerful business interests related to
current and former national-level political leaders, like
former First Deputy House Speaker Suchart Thanchareon, and
the current Governor of Phang Nga Province Anuwat
Methiwiboonwut, were responsible for much of the illegal
activity. Manop reported that DSI had informed him that a
web of at least 5 influential groups could be involved. The
defiant journalist said, "If I don't write these stories, no
one else will dare to tell the truth," about land grabbing in
Phang Nga.
A Disconnect
10. (SBU) Comment. Land encroachment and environment
devastation are nothing new to the Andaman Sea area. But
using the tsunami disaster as an opportunity to do even more
harm, to both poor villagers and the environment, is
reprehensible. Like so many public institutions in Thailand,
this issue highlights the "growing pains" that Thai officials
and the Thai policy making and implementation process are
going through. The actions of senior MOJ officials in
Bangkok are encouraging and a sign that they understand the
serious threat of local figures using violence to silence
critical journalists. Unfortunately, Bangkok is a long
distance from Phang Nga, and the disconnect between Bangkok
policy makers and local Phang Nga officials may be further.
End Comment.
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