Yingluck's European tour: Strictly business as usual

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 23, 2012

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Germany and France last week, her first visit to Europe since she took office a year ago. While the trip was primarily aimed at improving economic ties and regaining confidence among investors from the two most important economies in the European Union for the Thai government, other issues, such as the still unstable political situation and the continuously deteriorating freedom of speech, were mentioned in passing at best.

Over the course of five days, Yingluck completed a packed itinerary with lots of meetings and shaking hands with government officials, dignitaries and business representatives. She was accompanied by her entourage, including Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul,  and Suranand Vejjajiva, who know works for the government as her secretary-general. She also had 73 Thai private sector representatives in tow, underlining the main emphasis of this trip.

The first destination was the German capital Berlin, where she met with Chancellor Angela Merkel who greeted her with customary military honors at the Chancellery  for a working lunch and a joint press conference - which was pretty much the only chance for the German press to see her. Not much was reported about it - despite the fact it is the first visit by a Thai Prime Minister to Germany since 1995 and the German-Thai diplomatic relations are celebrating their 150th anniversary, as emphasized by both leaders. That said, the German media generally pays little attention to Southeast Asia (unless it is about Burma and involves Aung San Suu Kyi),

And so the official website of the Chancellery was the only outlet where interested followers could see the full press conference, which is available in German only. In the 17 minutes long presser, the German leader outlined the economic ties between the two countries pointing out that Germany is the "most important economical partner in the EU" and with about "600 German companies" already in the Kingdom, not to mention a popular tourist destination. The most important and interesting issue during this press conference and the meeting in general was the call to speed up the process for an ASEAN-EU free trade agreement, something Merkel has been advocating for some time already.

Prime Minister Yingluck said the two leaders have "trust in each other" and that the two countries will expand their relations "on all issues" including democratization, rule of law and human rights - which was pretty much one of the very few times these three words have been mentioned publicly during this trip. In general, nothing much else was talked about and the interest by the German press was virtually non-existent, as there was only one question directed to Yingluck by a Thai journalist and the other German colleagues asking Chancellor Merkel about the Euro crisis and the situation in Syria - and also a female reporter gushing over the apparent women power present at the stage (we talked about Yingluck and the issue with feminism before here and here).

And with that there was subsequently very much nothing reported in the German media outlets and the rest of Yingluck's stay in Germany can only be reconstructed via the official Flickr account of the Prime Minister (a great source for press photos licensed under Creative Commons btw!). Nevertheless, some interesting notes can be made from them: from giving a speech to a business forummeeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and meeting Thai citizens in Germany at the Thai Embassy and also at a Thai Buddhist temple during a short sojourn to Munich.

Yingluck also met with a group of German MPs dubbed the "Friends of Thailand" consisting of the German-ASEAN parliamentary group. But the picture also shows another familiar face: the grey-haired man left from the table with the water bottles is Michael Glos, MP of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), who has been to Thailand earlier this year. Glos also belongs to a group of conservative MPs that have lobbied at the Foreign Ministry to revoke the entry ban of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last year and have been campaigning for a policy change towards Thailand with "Thaksin as a strong figure" (we reported).

On Thursday, Yingluck traveled to France to do essentially the same: meeting with President François Hollande to talk about economy and ASEAN and meeting with business representatives to drum the roll for French investors. However the small difference was the slightly higher media coverage in France: the Prime Minister gave interviews to Le Figaro - where she was also asked about the role of the non-democratic militaryher usual denial over changing anything about lèse majesté and her rejection over the notion that she's the puppet of her bigger brother - and a TV interview with France 24, recorded before her departure.

The trip ended on Sunday and a pleased Prime Minister announced on her own TV show that it was a good opportunity to build trust and goodwill towards Thailand and its economy. For the two European heavyweights, ASEAN is likely to be a majore economic partner in the not-so-distant future as both sides have strong interest in a free-trade agreement. However, the question remains about Thailand's role because, contrary to what Yingluck told Merkel and Hollande, the political outlook for the Kingdom looks less than stable and still could drive investors away to regional neighbors, despite all the efforts to mask a long-simmering political crisis as a short-term problem. For the economic and political future, Thailands needs strong partners like the EU, but do these strong countries equally need Thailand that much?

Thai delegation examines alternatives to nuclear power in Germany

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 5, 2012 Note: This article was originally published in German on February 9, 2012 and written for the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, the political foundation affiliated to German Green Party.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 has raised doubts over the security and reliability of nuclear power once again and showed that even in a highly advanced country like Japan such accidents can happen.

Shortly thereafter, the German Federal Government reversed a recently made decision to extend the running period of nuclear power plants and, as the world's first industrial nation, wants to end its dependency on nuclear energy by 2022. Meanwhile in Thailand, the plans to build such nuclear power plants was still openly considered to meet the increasing energy demand, where natural gas is the main source to generate electricity, followed by coal and imported electricity from neighboring Laos and Malaysia.

More important is the development of alternative energy sources. But only 1.6 per cent of the country's electricity comes from renewable energy. That is not enough, say environmental activists and experts for alternative energy. In a cooperation between the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin and the regional office in Bangkok, a Thai delegation of experts on renewable energy and energy market regulation traveled to Germany to learn more about the energy turnaround and the challenges that comes with it.

Petra Zimmermann, project coordinator for Southeast Asia at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, says: "The aim of this trip was to inform the members of the delegation as much as possible about the challenges of Germany's energy turnaround and the implementation of the transition, especially on the legislative level."

On the program were meetings and panel discussions with proponents (such as the Federal Association for Wind Energy, Greenpeace and the Citizens' Group of Asse) and critics (German Atomic Forum) of the energy turnaround.

Civil movements brought in the change

One of the most crucial lessons is the involvement of civic society in the turnaround. "At first I thought that the Federal Government themselves took the initiative - very progressive," says Rosana Tositrakul. The Thai senator was a long-time environmental activist and now tries to path the way for renewable energy on the political level. "But now I see that it was civil movements that pressured the stakeholders," she adds.

Santisukh Sobhanasiri, another Thai veteran activist and now an advisor to several Senate committees, agrees with her: "The work of citizens' groups seems to be more systematic and steady. They succeeded to work together with the policy makers and in the end brought in the change."

Many delegates lament the lack of cooperation. Boonyuen Siritam works as the head of the Provincial Power Consumers Commission of Ratchaburi Province in favor for the people's participation in the regulation of the energy market: "We cannot wait for politicians until they have passed some bills, because there is no green, environmental party. But we need green citizens, with whom we can work together on a legislative initiative."

Her colleague Wanun Permpubul from the Heinrich Böll Foundation's regional office in Bangkok recalls some citizens' movements, especially from the South, which have been successful in the past, but on a national level not all are equally effective. Nevertheless, she sees great potential for alternative sources of energy, such as solar cells. "The more important it is that more people are involved to give the push into the right direction and to make a change in the energy policy possible."

However, it also needs a rethinking in society, says Lieutenant Commander Borpit Thossatheppitak of the Royal Thai Navy's research and development department. "Here in Germany, people are being made aware of the environment from very early on. For example, kids in school learn about such things like waste separation and that stays on over the course of their lives. Thailand has still a lot to catch up in that regard."

Another hurdle in Thailand for an energy change is politics and the legislation when it comes to energy issues. "It has always been difficult to work with the Thai government, no matter who was in power," says Saree Aongsomwang, general-secretary  of the  Federation of Consumer Protection.

Local energy supply as a role model

Also on the program was a visit to the town of Dardesheim in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany, which gets its energy from 33 nearby wind turbines at the Windpark Druiberg - it produces more energy than the 1000 inhabitants consume within a year.

Boonyuen sees this kind of energy supply for small communities as an ideal role model for Thailand and goes even one step further: "The goal of our organization is that villages are able to supply themselves with energy from local, renewable sources - independent from energy companies, who would take away the properties of the residents to build a power plant on it."

One point of concern is that after the nuclear phaseout this very technology could be exported abroad to build nuclear power plants elsewhere. Thailand recently had several offers from China, Norway, France and especially South Korea.

In the end, Thailand's nuclear ambitions were for now pushed to 2026 after heavy criticism in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. "We hope that until then Thailand will not go the nuclear route," says Senator Rosana at the end of the week-long delegation trip.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook.

2011 - Some Personal Thoughts

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2011 2011 is history and looking back on Thailand this past year, it has been yet another eventful year that brought some answers, but many more questions to the wide-spread problems that continues to plague the country in many aspects. However, 2011 brought many chances and changes, shed light on issues and topics left in the dark before, voices echoed by many and opinions uttered by a few, whether you agree with them or not.

This is a (definitely incomplete) list of these stories that happened in 2011...

Lèse majesté sees December surge

Let's start off with the most recent topic that has unfortunately brought Thailand into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons again and that is none other than the problematic issue of lèse majesté that is gripping freedom of speech. The whole month of December was filled with stories about high-profile cases and countless victims of this draconian law, the discussion to amend it and the (irrational) defenders of this law and the institution that is meant to be protected by it.

The recent surge of lèse majesté began in late November with the dubious sentence against Ampon "Uncle SMS" Tangnoppakul, despite doubtful evidence. The 62-year old grandfather is now being jailed for 20 years, five years for each alleged SMS sent. On December 8 the Thai-born US citizen was  sentenced to two and a half years prison for posting translated parts of a banned biography on the King. On December 15 'Da Torpedo', despite winning an appeal resulting in a restart of her trial, was punished to 15 years prison for alleged remarks made in 2008. These are just a few cases that happened in November and December compared to the countless other (partly ongoing or pending) cases over the past 12 months.

But the surge was also accompanied with growing and publicly displayed concern by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States Embassy in Bangkok over the increasing blatant usage of the lèse majesté law, only with the latter to be flooded with irrational, angry hate speeches and also the venue for a protest by royalists in mid-December (and also in a nearly instant iconic display of royal foolishness, the protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks, most likely inspired by the #Occupy-movement, but totally oblivious to its historical roots). It was not the first time this year that this issue got attention from the international community, as seen in October.

The government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected into office last July (see below), and while she would have liked to see some change on the application of the law, not to the law itself though, the new ICT minister has vowed to exploit this to the fullest. He was only to be topped by deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung a few months later, who went into full combat mode and declared war on lèse majesté web content with a THB400m ($12,6m) strong war chest, right after a meeting with the military's top brasses. The hopes of many supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, especially the red shirts, are at latest by now fully gone, as this government already has a tainted record on this issue.

But there was also an important protest by opponents of lèse majesté - the "Fearlessness Walk" shows that this issue can no longer be ignored and the consequences of its enforcement are doing exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do. It is drawing attention to the ambiguous nature of Article 112 of the criminal code (as well as the Computer Crimes Act), it is drawing attention to the signs of changing times and those who refuse to see them, and ultimately it will draw more opposition - we will (unfortunately) hear more about this issue in 2012!

(Non-)Culture: Baring the unbearable and monopolizing "Thai"-ness

While we're on the subject on being subjected to the anachronistic ideas of a few, there were several stories in 2011 in the realms of culture that were disconcerting, to say the least. It wasn't so much the incidents themselves rather the reactions by those self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thai"-ness - a phrase I've been using too often in each of those stories: three girls dancing topless on Songkran, the then-culture minister calls for a crackdown on them as if they have attacked everything "Thai"-ness stands for. A few months later the same culture minister suddenly notices that infidels foreigners are getting Buddhist tattoos and calls for a ban (and back paddles after some considerable uproar). Shortly after his ministry senselessly attempts to crack down on a senseless internet meme because it's "inappropriate" and "not constructive". Later this year a rather curious guide for parents was published on their website. And finally a singer's rather raunchy video gets a ton of hits online and a sanctimonious scolding on national TV.

See a pattern here? The selective outcry borders on ridiculousness and fuels Thailand’s National Knee-Jerk Outrage Machine (“กลไกสร้างปฏิกิริยาอย่างไร้ความยั้งคิดแห่งประเทศไทย”, trademark pending), claims to uphold the only valid definition of "Thai"-ness, that isn't even fully spelled out yet, while they have not noticed that the world beyond their minds has moved on and come up with new and different definitions of what else Thailand could be. The problem is that these cultural heralds, by political office or class, claim monopoly on this. Everyone below their wage level is not entitled to even think about it. And if something doesn't fit their point of view, as guest contributor Kaewmala put it brilliantly, "Only taboo when it's inconvenient!"

The 2011 General Elections

Will he or will he not? In the end, Abhisit Vejjajiva did dissolve parliament and paved the way for early elections in May and also set off quite a short campaign season, which not only saw a few strange election posters and illustrious characters running for office, but it also saw the emergence of Yingluck Shinawatra as the lucky draw for PM candidate of the opposition Pheu Thai Party. After much skyping to Dubai discussion within the party, the sister of Thaksin was chosen to run and it turned out to be the best pick.

The Democrat Party were banking heavily on negative campaigning (a precursor to the upcoming, inevitable Thaksin-phobia in 2012), which reached its climax in the last days with their rally at Rajaprasong, the same venue where the red shirts protested a year ago. In this event, then-deputy prime minister Suthep Thuangsuban claimed to give the "full truth" on what really happened during the violent crackdown of May 19, 2010. What followed were hours of fear-mongering in case of a Pheu Thai win and an incident that almost caused a major misunderstanding:

The big screens flanking the stage on the left and the right are bearing a gruesome view. Footage of at times badly injured people from last year’s rally are being shown when suddenly at the sight of blood people started cheering – as it turns out, not for the brutally killed victims of the anti-governments protests of 2010, but for a woman with an Abhisit cut-out mask waving to the crowd behind her.

"Thailand’s Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong", Siam Voices, June 24, 2011

The last days of the campaign were spent outside of Bangkok, for example Pheu Thai in Nakhon Ratchasima before the big day. On Sunday, July 3, election day of course meant a full-day-marathon for a journalist. Not only did it mean covering as many polling stations around town as humanly possible, not only to crunch the numbers of exit polls (which turned out to be total BS!), but also of course running the live-blog at Siam Voices. In the end, it went very quickly: Abhisit conceded, Yingluck smiled and at a lunch meeting later there was already a new five-party coalition.

The worst floods in decades: a deluge of irrationality


This is the current death toll of the what has been described as the "worst floods in decades". Floods are an annual occurrence in Thailand during the rainy season. When the water was sweeping through Chiang Mai already back in late September, this natural disaster was somehow going to be different. But it took some considerable time, despite the unprecedented damage it has created in Ayutthaya to the ancient temples and the vital industrial parks, until the capital was drowned in fear of what was to come.

It was curious to observe that those who were least likely to be affected (read: central Bangkok) were losing their nerves the most. Back in November I attempted to explore one possible reason:

One of the real reasons why the people of the city react the way they did though is this: After a military coup, countless violent political protests and sieges of airports, government buildings and public roads, this city has a sense of anxiety not unlike New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: a sense of being constantly under siege by something or somebody that separates Bangkok from the rest of the country even more. An incident at Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate (we reported) is a perfect example of the conflict between inside and outside Bangkok in miniature form.

"The Thai floods and the geographics of perception – Part 2: Certain fear of uncertainty", Siam Voices, November 23, 2011

On an anecdotal note I remember people around me hoarding bottled water, moving their belongings upstairs and barricading their houses waist-high - while I can understand these precautions, I was astonished to say the least when I started to read social media updates that accuse the government so much so to the point of deliberately drowning the people of Bangkok and other outlandish conspiracy theories, including the now ubiquitous "blame it on foreign media"-card.

There's no doubt that this natural disaster has not only shown the worst in people, but also it's helpful and charitable side (not only towards humans exclusively). During my work reporting from the floods for foreign news crews (hence there weren't many posts on Siam Voices), I admired the apparent resilience and defiance I saw from many victims of the floods - some of which are now struggling with rebuilding their lost existence. And a lot of clean-up will be needed to be done, both literally as well as politically, in order to prevent such a disaster from happening again!

What else happened in 2011? (in no particular order)

- Then-prime minister Abhisit urging then-president of Egypt Honsi Mubarak to respect the will of the people - while being totally oblivious that he exactly did not do that a year ago because, well, "They ran into the bullets" themselves!

- Half a dozen Thais walking through the border region with Cambodia and surprised that they're being arrested, in an arbitrary way to dispute the border demarcations between the two countries. This ongoing conflict, largely fueled by the ever-shrinking PAD, sparked into a brief armed battle. Two of the strollers are still sitting in a Cambodian prison.

- The one-year-anniversary of the crackdown of May 19 and my personal thoughts on this.

- The somehow strangely toned-down five-year-anniversary of the 2006 coup.

- Army chef General Prayuth Chan-ocha going completely berserk at the press.

- The fact that Thailand got its first female prime minister and the (un)surprisingly muted reactions by Thailand's feminists.

- The saga of the impounded Thai plane on German ground, the curious case study on how Thai media reported it, the juristic mud-slinging, and how this mess was eventually solved. Which brings us to...

- The German government allowing Thaksin back into Germany, after heavy campaigning by a bunch of conservative German MPs. Still boggles my mind...!

- And while we're on topic, we are saying good-bye to a regular contributor of outrageous quotes - no one has been so focused to do a different job than written his business card than Thaksin-hunter and former foreign minister in disguise Kasit Piromya!

I'd like to thank my colleagues at Siam Voices for building a diverse and opinionated collective, our editor who keeps everything in check and YOU, the readers! THANK YOU for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets!

Here's to an eventful, exciting 2012 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany again (*sigh*). He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Now Germany and soon Japan: More countries let Thaksin back in

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 15, 2011 We all know Thailand's ex-prime minister and on-the-run fugitive, Thaksin Shinawatra, is pretty busy traveling the world ever since he's out of Thailand. When he's not at his new home base in Dubai, he mostly goes on business trips, for example in Uganda. But the list of countries he can visit has kind of shrunk, despite his new citizenship of Montenegro and his Nicaraguan diplomatic passport. For example, when Thaksin sneaked into Germany and got a permanent residence permit in late 2008, the European country had thrown him out after they have found out about it a few months later.

It is now Germany again, who has recently revoked the entry ban for Thaksin (see previous coverage here), thanks to heavy lobbying by German conservative MPs and officially to the new political “situation in Thailand”, which of course enraged chief Thaksin-hunter Thai foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, on his last days. Well, he might want to cool down now because he won't like what the Thai media have reported recently.

Matichon and Khao Sod have reported that Thaksin recently has made a trip to Germany and met Thai expat red shirts supporters there, both referring to the website "Thai Red EU" (caution: the website is overloaded with several audio livestreams going off at the same time!). According to the website, Thaksin visited Munich on August 5, on the same day that Yingluck was voted in as prime minister in parliament.

A few days later, on August 9, Thaksin arrived in Hamburg via his personal jet before he met with 'officials of the UDD EU' organization. Thaksin then attended a red shirt meeting at Wat Buddhabharami, a local Thai Buddhist temple, where a religious memorial service was held for the victims of last year's protests. In a speech after the service, he expressed delight to meet "so many Thais at once" and demanded his supporters to remain "patient" about "seeking justice". He was later seen at a Thai restaurant, dining with fellow red shirts and red organizers from many European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France and Finland. Thaksin then left Hamburg after having spent about five hours in the North-German city. (Source: YouTube video 1, video 2)

Hamburg has a well-organized group of red shirts and it is quite possibly the center of the movement in Germany. The people behind have apparently good connections to Thaksin and are also well-connected to other red shirts all over Europe (although the total number of any group has not been verified yet), as seen during their rally on the eve of the anniversary of the military coup of 2006. What is also striking is that the German red shirts have a heavy focus on Thaksin as their personal champion. When comparing the red shirt rallies worldwide on September 19, 2010, you'll see that only the rally in Hamburg has references to the former prime minister - let alone a phone-in by him.

Thaksin has also previously entered Finland in mid-July. Reporters of the Helsink-based Helsingin Sanomat have spotted Thaksin during a private shopping trip in the Finish capital and quoted him praising the Scandinavian country and to have come for "over the tenth time." Finland is part of the Schengen Agreement, which does away with the internal border controls for most of continental Europe. Friends of the infamous Finland Conspiracy will take notice of this.

In related news, the Japanese government has reportedly granted Thaksin a special entry permit. Thaksin hopes to visit the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami later this month, since he has donated an unspecified sum for disaster relief. This comes after the new Thai foreign minister, Surapong Towijakchaikul, had politely addressed the Japanese ambassador to Thailand, whether or not Thaksin could be let in to Japan - to which the ambassador asked if Thailand would mind. It also coincides with reports from Japan that its lawmakers have expressed their wish to let Thaksin in, even having met the former prime minister before last year - see something similar here?

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Thai govt pays €38m to Walter Bau, gets royal plane back

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 10, 2011 Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday night:

A court in Germany has released the Boeing 737 seized from HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Tuesday.

Mr Abhisit told reporters the government has posted the full 38 million euros demanded by Walter Bau company in an account to be controlled by the German court.

As a result, the court released the jet. Terms of the agreement were unclear, as was the role of Mr Abhisit.

The government used public money for the deal. (...)

"Germany 'releases royal jet'", Bangkok Post, August 9, 2011

AP's take:

A Munich airport official confirmed that German authorities on Tuesday had released the plane used by the Thai crown prince. "It has been released, he just has to tell the airport when he would like to fly," Edgar Engert, a spokesman for the airport, told The Associated Press.

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

This is quite yet another intriguing turn of events, which probably ends an awkward spat between Thailand and Germany, that started almost a month ago over an issue that dates back even further, when a German construction firm built a tollway to Bangkok's old international airport in Don Muang in a jointventure with the Thai government. The Thai government has broken several contractual obligations, including toll hikes and not building other roads that would compete with the tollway.

This German construction firm later merged with Walter Bau AG, another German construction firm that went bankrupt in 2005 - it was then when liquidator Werner Schneider found the old contract and demanded compensation from the Thai government. An international arbitration court ruled against Thailand in 2009 and ordered them to pay €30m ($42m or THB 1,2bn) - which has grown to almost €38m thanks to interests and the Thai government simply ignoring the order for years.

That's when Werner Schneider had enough, decided to up the ante against the Thai government and seeked to impound the Boeing 737 of Thai Crown HRH Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. That set off a bilateral spat in which Thailand, partly thanks to the confusing domestic media coverage, but also active disinformation and an apparent failure to distinguish a German court from the German government, had a weak case on their hands in not only trying to release the plane, but also fight against the order to pay the hefty sum to WalterBau AG.

The main legal battle focussed on whether or not the royal 737 plane is owned by the Thai government or is personal property of the Crown Prince. A German court has then decided to release the plane only for a €20m ($28.4 or THB 851m) deposit, which still kinda led some Thai news outlets to believe that the plane is actually freed, since there has been no verdict on the ownership status, which was supposed to take place later this August at a German court.

The lastest developments (which were also the last acts of the now former Thai government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and then-foreign minister Kasit Piromya) consisted of who was going to pay. Of course, it started off with Kasit refusing to pay the deposit, the Crown Prince then announced to pay from his own fund, to which Kasit was suddenly ready to flip the bill so the Crown Prince doesn't have to until Abhisit overruled him and said no - as summarized here by Bangkok Pundit.

Now apparently the Thai government is actually paying the whole bill to Walter Bau after all. But why so suddenly? Was it an attempt to score one last 'victory' by the outgoing government by not only getting the royal plane back? Was the realization that the 'new information' presented to the German courts was neither new nor informative enough to be in favor of the Thai government? Apparently the Thai side ran out of arguments:

DLA Piper, the law firm representing Thailand in the case, said the country is committed to honoring its obligations and wants to rule out premature actions against assets of it or others.

"Thailand has strong grounds for challenging the confirmation of the award," a DLA Piper lawyer, Frank Roth, said in the firm's statement. "However, if the Berlin court finally concludes that the award against the Kingdom of Thailand is enforceable, the Kingdom of Thailand has made the funds available."

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

This statement by this law firm is particularly interesting, since just a week ago they have released a press release sounding very confident and trying to convince that the €20m deposit to be a 'victory'. But according to one Thai official, this whole thing is not done yet:

Thai Foreign Ministry official Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said a German court ordered the release of the aircraft Tuesday after the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.

He said Thailand would continue to contest the claim on the tollway dispute until a definitive court ruling. Abhisit stepped down from the prime minister's post last week after his Democrat Party lost a July general election.

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

Chavanond probably refers to an ongoing appeal at a New York court, even though the award itself is already final, unappealable and enforceable worldwide - the chances are reportedly 'very slim' (source) though that the Thai government would actually get anything from this procedure.

There's of course at least one Thai news outlet that gets it wrong - you can all probably guess which one it is...

German authorities have agreed to withdraw impoundment of two 737 Boeing jets belonging to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn parked at the Munich airport, after Thai government placed 38 million euros as guarantee, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

The Thai embassy in Germany is working further on the issue to retrieve the two aircraft [sic!], and a lawsuit will be soon lodged with German court, said Chawanong Intharakomalsut, secretary to former foreign minister Kasit Piromya. He did not give details over which grounds over the issue the lawsuit would appeal against.

"Germans to free jet as govt pays Bt1.6-bn surety", The Nation, August 10, 2011

Wait, wait - TWO impounded planes?! Who said that TWO planes have been impounded?! Yes, there was a second Thai royal plane landing on the runway in Munich, but the German liquidator was only considering to impound the second plane - if that would have happened, we would have already known about this, if not from the Thai press, then at least the German press! Even the Thai Embassy in Berlin has said nowhere about a second plane!

This leaves now the question with what they actually mean when they said that 'public money' has been used...?

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.