Phuket beach row spurs graft probes

Phuket beach row spurs graft probes

Foreigners must behave or lose visa

Hundreds of people gather at Yamu Beach in Phuket's Thalang district to demand the return of Yamu Beach and other public beaches and extend moral support to the doctor allegedly assaulted by a Swiss man. Phuket Info Center
Hundreds of people gather at Yamu Beach in Phuket's Thalang district to demand the return of Yamu Beach and other public beaches and extend moral support to the doctor allegedly assaulted by a Swiss man. Phuket Info Center

PHUKET: More than 500 locals and activists gathered on Yamu beach in Thalang district on Sunday to condemn a Swiss man who allegedly kicked a doctor. They also demanded his expulsion from Phuket and restoration of public access to the beach where the alleged assault happened.

The protest against the 45-year-old Swiss man -- Urs Fehr, also known as David -- began at 9am at the scene of the alleged assault, steps to the beach in tambon Pa Khlok.

The steps are in front of a villa where the Swiss man and his Thai wife live. Inquiries following the incident show the steps were built illegally and encroach on public land. The Thalang district office has ordered their removal.

On the evening of Feb 24, Mr Fehr allegedly kicked Thandao Chandam, a 26-year-old doctor at Dibuk Hospital in Phuket, in the back while she and her friend were moon-watching on the steps. Dr Thandao was also allegedly berated by Khanuengnit, the Swiss man's wife.

The doctor later filed an assault complaint with police. The couple, who apologised for the incident, were not present at their villa on Sunday.

"Get out, David," some demonstrators shouted while others were taking photos at the beach steps, which have emerged as a popular selfie spot following the incident. Some people held Thai national flags and all sang the national anthem.

Somboon Sampaorat, 58, of tambon Pa Khlok, said local people gathered to demand the return of Yamu beach to the general public. "In the past people could walk along the beach. After foreign developers arrived and housing estates went up, access was restricted," he said.

Housing estates replaced a forest covering 300–400 rai where wild deer roamed and people could collect forest products, Mr Somboon said.

Suchart Jorasakul, 56, from tambon Koh Kaew, said he and his friends arrived to demand that authorities clearly demarcate private properties from public areas. "We want to join calls for restoration of public access to Yamu beach, which is a public beach. It turns out that foreigners are occupying too many areas," he said.

Activists from the People Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), who also present, raised banners with messages demanding authorities return public access to beaches.

Phuket police chief Pol Maj Gen Sinlert Sukhum said officials would consider a blacklist or visa revocation against foreigners who break the law in Phuket.

National police chief Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol said on Sunday he had ordered the Provincial Police Region 8 and the Phuket provincial tourism police to investigate the case. He said the units were told to gather facts surrounding the alleged assault and ensure the investigation against the Swiss man is swift.

Pol Gen Torsak said he also instructed the Phuket police chief to launch a probe into alleged misconduct by local police in Phuket, who some say accept bribes from foreigners on the island to let them persue illegal activities.

He would also direct the inspector-general from the Royal Thai Police (RTP) to conduct an investigation as well to ensure transparency and prevent criticism that police were protecting each other.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Sunday warned foreigners living in Thailand to abide by the law or their visas would be revoked.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he instructed the RTP and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to step up measures to ensure foreigners comply with the laws.

A police source said the Swiss man was initially charged with assault but denied the charge. Authorities say an initial probe has found no cause to revoke his visa.

An official from the Pa Khlok municipality also filed a complaint against Phuket Peninsula Estate Co Ltd, which looks after the villa project, for encroaching on public land and ordered it to dismantle the steps within 30 days.

Meanwhile, local authorities including livestock officials inspected the Green Elephant Sanctuary Park run by the couple and found it had permits to possess all the 15 animals in the compound.

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