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Trader protests Lao treatment
Published on May 11, 2005

A businessman yesterday urged Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawa-tra to ensure that Vientiane provides better protection to Thai investors in Laos.

Sithian Na Songkhla, who submitted his petition to the prime minister at Government House in the morning, was accompanied by about 50 workers from his timber business in Laos.

The businessman said that he had secured a lumber concession in the Lao province of Sayaboury, a business in which he invested more than Bt100 million.

He claimed the governor of Sayaboury, Sombat Yialiher, had ordered the seizure of his timber-processing plant and eight years' worth of cut timber.

Sithian said he had brought the case to trial and that the Lao Supreme Court later ruled in his favour.

He said the governor had, however, ignored the court judgement and the Lao government was unable to do anything about it. The businessman added that he had filed a petition with the Thai Foreign Ministry and was still awaiting a response.

He claimed that the Sayaboury governor had also moved equipment from his processing factory to the governor's new plant. Trees in his concession forest area were being felled and then sold to Thai timber traders, he said.

Sithian said many of the logs were imported into Thailand through a border checkpoint in Phayao province. He complained to customs officials at the checkpoint, but was told that the logs could not be blocked as the importers have valid documentation.

"I have got no fair treatment from either Thai or Lao officials. My family and I have invested a lot in this project and we are now heavily indebted," he said.

An industry source said a business conflict existed because Sombat had signed a concession falling outside the central government's quota. The concession was terminated when Vientiane learned about the problem, the source added.

The Lao Embassy in Bangkok said it had known about the conflict for years, but had left the problem to the Sayaboury governor.

An embassy official, who declined to be named, said he believed a demonstration in front of the embassy yesterday by the firm's workers was intended to highlight the matter before a meeting of Thai-Lao border province governors, scheduled to be held in Pattaya this week.

He said the issues should be settled legally and not through protests or similar means.

When questioned by reporters on the matter yesterday, Thaksin said that he had not been notified about the businessman's grievance.

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