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Thai-Lao border traffic sees sharp fall in aftermath of coup

BORDER checkpoints on routes to Thailand have seen a remarkable drop in the number of people crossing since the recent Thai military coup.

Thailand's army staged a coup on May 22 after months of political unrest.

The border checkpoint at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge in Vientiane has seen weekly two-way traffic decrease by more than 10,000 people compared with the normal flow before the coup, director of the bridge Somboun Souvannachoumkham said on Monday.

Last week, the one-way flow of Lao people crossing the bridge to Thailand for various purposes was between 6,000 and 7,000 people lower than the usual rate.

There was a similar drop in the number of Thai people entering Laos, Somboun told Vientiane Times .

Last week's drop was not as significant as the initial dive at the beginning of the coup when strict border crossing procedures were implemented, including tougher checking and passports becoming mandatory, with no other documentation accepted. People can now once again use a border pass to cross the bridge, Somboun said.

He said the significant drop in people crossing the border was partly driven by the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs issuing an announcement advising people to avoid entering Thailand during the coup.

The director of the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge in Khammuan province, Vannavong Vongpha-chanh, said the checkpoint at his bridge had also seen a remarkable drop in traffic. The director-general of Lao Airlines'commercial department, Phoutthasone Vannachack, said airlines had also been carrying significantly less passengers to and from Thailand.

She said a number of passengers had cancelled flights they booked from Laos to Thailand, which is a regional transit hub.

Many foreigners, including those intending to transit through Thailand on their way to Laos, cancelled flights they had booked earlier.

Exact figures on the number of cancelled flights are yet to be determined.

The deputy director of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism's research and administrative division, Bounthavy Sisava, said he was not yet able to say how great the impact of the situation would be on the Lao tourism sector as information on this had not yet been collected.

But official data from the ministry shows that Thai tourists made up the largest proportion of foreign arrivals in Laos last year.

More than 2 million Thai tourists arrived in Laos in 2013, representing more than half of the more than 3.7 million total of foreign tourists visiting the country that year.

Thailand is an important transit point for many foreign tourists entering Laos through both airports and border checkpoints.

In 2012, almost 1.9 million people entered Laos through the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane alone and more than 2.1 million people left Laos for Thailand the same way.

With 36,958 vehicles coming in and 246,468 going out of Laos, the bridge has become noticeably more crowded in recent times.


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