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Tourism agencies eye march on embassy over US terror warning

Tourism operators yesterday threatened to march on the US Embassy to meet with the ambassador if the United States refuses to withdraw its terrorism warning for Thailand within two days.

"Those concerned operators will join forces to submit their demand to US Ambassador Kristie Kenney to learn more about the impacts of maintaining the warning," said Watchara Kannikar, spokesman of the Tourism Ministry.

"They will also present information that they got in cooperation with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the National Police Office and other security agencies, which shows that Thailand is not a terrorist target," he said after a meeting of the National Tourism Policy Committee.

With the raising of a terrorism-threat warning by the US, those operators are facing business losses as tourists mainly from China and India have changed their plans to skip Bangkok.

Reluctance to visit

The committee to monitor the situation after the posting of the terrorism warning in Bangkok by the US is also concerned about the impacts on tourists, especially those from China and India who are sensitive to news about terrorism, flooding and Suvarnabhumi Airport.

"Those news reports have made tourists reluctant to enter Thailand," Watchara said.

However, cancellations of hotel-room and air-ticket bookings are not that high now, as the problem is still limited to the three areas in Bangkok mentioned in the US warning. Tourists have avoided Bangkok and proceeded directly to their destinations after taking off from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Chiang Mai and Phuket.

The ministry will inform tourists of the facts. It projects visitor arrivals will reach 19.55 million, up slightly from 19 million last year. They are expected to generate at least Bt760 billion of income for Thailand.

Tourism Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa went down to Khao San Road, where crowds of Israeli and American tourists gather, to convince them of Thailand's security measures.

Waranchai Chokchana, an activist, called on the US Embassy to cancel the travel alert.

"Thailand is not a target of terror attacks at all. But the US has issued the warning, which has now hurt Thailand's economy and tourism," he said.

US Embassy officials took a letter of protest from Waranchai, who then left.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said the ministry's permanent secretary had explained the recent high-profile terrorism case to the United States.

"We believe the warning will be revoked," he said. "It will just take some time."

Surapong also expressed confidence that foreign terrorists would not stage any attack in Thailand because the country had been friendly to all.

This month, Atris Hussein was arrested at Suvarnabhumi for his alleged link to a terrorism network.

A police investigation suggested that Hussein was planning to export bomb-making materials such as urea fertiliser and ammonium nitrate to a third country. Ammonium nitrate is a prohibited chemical in Thailand and Hussein is now facing charges of unauthorised possession of the controlled substance.

Hussein has two passports, Lebanese and Swedish. He had rented a shophouse in Samut Sakhon for about two years to keep the large stash of ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser, which have now been seized.

National Police chief Priewphan Damapong said police were seeking an arrest warrant for a second suspect in the case.

"We have drawn up a sketch based on the description given by Hussein and the shophouse owner," the general said.

This suspect had lived in the shophouses with Hussein for months, he said.

Maj-General Anuchai Lekbam-rung, deputy Metropoli-tan Police commissioner. identified this new suspect as James Sammy Paolo, a 40-year-old Lebanese.

"We believe there's solid evidence against him," he said.


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