Thailand has carpeted its capital in security for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit, taking unprecedented and elaborate precautions to thwart any terrorist
activity during the forum.
About 2,000 policemen are being posted at hotels where world leaders are
staying, another 900 officers will be sent to escort leaders' motorcades, and
120 police will guard leaders and their spouses. There are 1,300 security officers
reinforcing airport security. The Thai Air Force is deploying two F-16 fighter
jets to accompany each APEC leader's aircraft as it enters Thai air space.
Commercial planes will be ordered to keep their distance.
This unprecedented security is to protect the 21 government leaders coming
to the Thai capital between October 20 and 22 for the meeting of the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum.
Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, says their safety, and
that of the public, is top priority. "We have gone to great lengths to make
sure that every detail is not overlooked, especially in the area of security
measures," he said.
With the terrorist bombings a year ago in Bali that claimed 202 lives, many
of them foreign tourists, and the August bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel
in Jakarta that claimed 12 more, security is topping the agenda of Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Sihasak of the Foreign Ministry says the leaders
can be confident about safety during APEC. "Everything that needs to be done,
we have done it, to give everyone the confidence that we'll have a successful
meeting in Bangkok," he said.
The U.S. presidential plane, Air Force One, will only be accessible to its
own security team, while other leaders' aircraft will be guarded by local security.
Terrorism expert from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Panitan Watanayagorn,
says cooperation between Thai intelligence and APEC members has helped shore
"Of course, there are advanced teams of many countries sending into Thailand
a few weeks and a few days ago to work and cooperate with the local Thai security
officers," he said. "That probably includes the intelligence, and special operators,
just to make sure that the meeting goes smoothly."
Several hotels hosting APEC leaders have placed special anti-car bombing
blocks around their peripheries to mitigate the effects of car bombs. The blocks
can stop an explosives-laden vehicle weighing up to six tons.
But no matter how many precautions are taken, Mr. Panitan says it is very
difficult to stop a suicide bomber. "On the activities of suicide bombers,
this is quite new to Thailand, as you may notice, local officers have not had
much experience countering . suicide bombs," he said. "This is one of the most
difficult counter-terrorist activities you can imagine."
All international and local schools will be closed for one week starting
Friday, and Mr. Thaksin has declared a one-week holiday for most civil servants
in order to lighten traffic.
Even taxi drivers have been asked to participate in the security awareness
campaign. Local drivers were asked to report any suspicious characters they
may encounter. Even with the extra safety measures, many ordinary Thais are
uncomfortable that the APEC meeting is in Bangkok, fearing it will be a magnet
for terrorists. Khun Suwanee, who works in a five-star hotel, says her establishment
has taken all precautions, but she is afraid nothing can stop someone who is
intent on staging an attack.
"Because if everyone so scared of [terrorism] we don't do anything. We don't
do our normal life, we don't do the [APEC] meeting. then we will go back to
paralyze everything," she said. "And definitely the whole world will collapse
because the economy cannot go. So looking on that side, we have to understand,
we cannot stop the world from war." While that may be true, Mr. Thaksin is
hoping he can stop any threat of terrorist activity during APEC.