Pai, Thailand02

<<Pai, Thailand01

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Flood of 2005

Pai suffered a huge mudslide and severe flooding in 2005, resulting in major structural damage to homes, resorts, storefronts, and bridges. The town had almost completely recovered by the time the 2006 high season began.

Controversy over Police Conduct

Although it is a sleepy town in the mountains, Pai has over the past decade generated an unusual amount of controversy (even for Thailand) concerning the conduct of its local police, as well as the conduct of Thai drug enforcement police operating there. This is partially due to the proximity of Pai to drug routes from the Shan State in Burma, however given the post-2000 rise in incidents involving foreign tourists, it is evident that other factors are also at work. Some examples of this clear long-term trend in Pai include:

  • On December 24th, 2001, the local Pai police arrested and jailed the owner of Bebop bar, with the rather dubious explanation that he was "letting people dance in a place of business not officially licensed as a ‘disco.’"[7] After this event, both Bebob and Mountain Blue received additional discriminatory treatment in the form of illegal, or uneven, application of Thailand's closing-time laws. The so-called "dancing ban" by the Thai Police became a famous and well-known joke which business owners are still talking about in 2008.
  • Also in 2001, and again in 2003, Pai district officials and police began enforcing several illegal measures ostensibly aimed at increasing "safety" for the local tourists, specifically "a ‘recommendation’ via illegal denial of permits whereby all guesthouses must have walls made from a solid material, such as wood, gypsum, compressed fibre or cement"[8] rather than the cheaper and more traditional bamboo favored by many guesthouse owners and low-budget backpackers. Most locals suspected other motives were involved, including both a desire to "weed out" low-budget tourists and to encourage higher-priced construction that would generate higher construction kickbacks. Several locals pointed out uneven enforcement of these laws for different businesses, depending on personal relationships with the police or district officials.
  • The so-called "War on Drugs" launched in February 2003 by former (now deposed) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in which "more than 2,000 people in Thailand were killed as the government effectively declared 'open season' on those accused of involvement in the drug trade,"[9], took a heavy toll on Pai district and downtown Pai in particular. Many locals whose family members were murdered without investigation now take an extremely skeptical view towards any police action here.[10]
  • In 2006, the Pai Police purchased a new mobile drug testing vehicle, and there have been numerous reported instances of the police entering bars and other establishments and randomly urine-testing foreign tourists. In many of these cases it is apparent that the searches were not performed legally. In Thailand, "when requesting urinalysis for drug identification purposes, at least one member of the Narcotics Suppression Police must be present. Regular Thai police do not have this right, nor do the Tourist Police. Second of all, there must be probable cause."[11]. In most cases, apprehended suspects are detained in Mae Hong Son jail for a few days, then released with a "fine" typically on the order of 5,000-10,000 baht.[12]
  • On January 5th 2008, Pai made national and international news when an off-duty police officer, Sgt-Major Uthai Dechawiwat, fatally shot Canadian tourist John Leo Del Pinto, and shot and wounded a second Canadian tourist Carly Reisig, fleeing the scene immediately after the event.[13][14] Nearly all involved believe that both the policeman and suspects were drunk at the time. Official police reports differ widely from eye-witness reports and it is expected that the officer will be acquitted by the Thai Justice system. In an extremely unusual development which highlights the deep integrity issues that exist with the Pai police, reporter Andrew Drummond published an editorial in The Nation where he expressed his regrets for publishing views from all sides of the story in his earlier Nation article because:

    "While the facts presented were true, they have been wrongly taken in a malicious way by many...What the journalist cannot convey sometimes is his opinion of whether the witnesses are telling the truth or show immediately what links these witnesses have to the police....I am very concerned at several aspects of this case:

    1. The police claiming that Reisig was pregnant and this had angered a jealous foreign boyfriend.
    2. The claims by the police shooter that he had been out of town before the shooting, when other witnesses were saying the officer was drinking heavily that night in Pai.
    3. The threats to prosecute Reisig for assault on police.
    4. The automatic bail for the police gunman.
    5. The fact that local police are investigating themselves.
    6. The claims that the gun had discharged three times accidentally."
  • In a January, 2008 editorial published in Chiang Mai CityLife (submitted in December, 2007),anonymous author "A Tourist" eerily anticipates the January, 2008 shooting in his/her strongly-worded objection to excessive police actions in Pai:

    "I have noticed another significant change over the last year, which is the reason for writing this letter. The method of law enforcement in this small town needs to be seriously examined....I accept that changes are necessary. I also agree that noise pollution should be carefully monitored and controlled, as should drug abuse and any other illegal acts or unpleasant kinds of behaviour, but we ought not to be scared to leave our homes (or guesthouses)! ... One Saturday in particular remains in my memory, where several police officers decided to inspect a party at a bar in town. I believe that they were looking for drugs. I along with many other tourists was especially shocked to see that one officer was carrying a machine gun...This kind of behaviour is likely to scare tourists and leave very negative impressions on them with regards to Pai town as a holiday destination...The police are also actively confiscating other vehicles, testing individuals at random for drugs and alcohol abuse, detaining owners of restaurants and bars for remaining open past the agreed time, and generally making a lot of noise in a relatively quiet town that did not appear to have many problems beforehand....The increased police presence is clearly visible and does not, in my opinion, make Pai town look like a place one would like to visit. There is also a general feeling of unrest here and I feel that it is quite obvious to the tourist travelling through. The police are unapproachable and menacing. This has a strong negative impact on the atmosphere here in Pai town. The previously friendly and welcoming town appears to have changed into a place where everyone is afraid to even walk down the street in case they are accused of doing something wrong. Should the police not be employed to protect civilians? Should they not be approachable in case I or someone else requires some help? They are certainly not even close to doing what a police force is meant to do."

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