• Short Summary

    One month after the closure of the river border between Thailand and Laos following the grounding of a Thai naval vessel midway between the banks of the Mekong, there are some signs that the border tension has eased, if only slightly.

  • Description

    GV Nong Khai provincial government building

    GV Immigration office for Nong Khai/Vientiane ferry

    SV & GV INTERIOR Immigration counter empty (2 shots)

    GV River-side of immigration office

    GV PAN & ZOOM OUT Idle ferry boats on Thai side of river PAN TO Vientiane (Laotian side) (2 shots)

    SV & GV Signs and Nong Khai railway station empty (2 shots)

    SV Idle trishaw men and traffic in street (2 shots)

    GV PAN Meo refugee centre

    SV Refugees in front of hut

    GV & SV Refugees washing and bathing near well (3 shots)

    SV Shoppers in market

    GV (UDORN) F-4 taking off

    GV Electrical tracking equipment on airfield

    GV PAN Another F-4 taking off

    Initials NG/1625 NG/1650

    Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved

    Background: One month after the closure of the river border between Thailand and Laos following the grounding of a Thai naval vessel midway between the banks of the Mekong, there are some signs that the border tension has eased, if only slightly.

    Earlier this month, an official Thai government announcement suggested that the border would be re-opened some time in January. But on Monday (22 December) the Laotian Foreign Minister announced his government was not prepared to negotiate the re-opening "under pressure".

    The Thai government's decision to close the river to all traffic to and from Laos was taken after Pathet Lao troops fired on the naval vessel, killing one man, and later on troops and marines attempting to salvage the boat.

    For laos, the move meant far more than a rupture in international relations. Laos is a landlocked state, importing more than 80 per cent of its food, fuel and other commodities through Thailand across the Mekong. Soviet officials revealed on Sunday that the Soviet Union was starting to air-life supplies into Laos.

    For more than four weeks now, the ferry towns along the Mekong have been quiet, almost deserted. Nong Khai, scene of the original river incident, has been virtually empty of travellers, its immigration offices deserted, its ferry boats idle. The only newcomers have been Laotians fleeing the country following the dissolution of the monarchy completing the Pathet Lao takeover.

    Nong Khai is already the centre for a large refugee camp, housing members of Laos' Meo tribe -- remnants of the former secret army -- which is still fighting Pathet Lao forces north-east of the administrative capital, Vientiane.

    Closing the Mekong has been an effective way for the Thai government to illustrate its determination to persuade Laos to cut off or reduce supplies and aid to communist insurgents in north and north-eastern Thailand. It has also curtailed the smuggling of black market goods and illegal immigrants from one country to another.

    But Bangkok is far from seeking a rift with neighbouring Laos. The Mekong blockade has served as a potent weapon, but is backed by a Thai demand for the departure of all United States military personnel and equipment from Thai soil as soon as possible. The government of Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj sees this as essential to development better relations with all Thailand's communist neighbours.

    Complete withdrawal -- scheduled for March 1976 -- came one step nearer on Friday (19 December) when the last remaining 22 U.S. Air Force F-4 aircraft left Udorn Airbase, near the Laotian border.

    The withdrawal from Udorn means there are no more U.S. combat planes stationed in Thailand. Until two years ago, Udorn -- like Utapao and Korat -- was a crucial staging-post for the U.S. air war over Indochina.

    At the height of U.S. involvement in south-east Asia, some 750 aircraft were scattered between seven U.S.-financed bases in Thailand, along with 50,000 servicemen. Only 13,500 men and 45 non-combat aircraft remain. By March, all will have left.

    SYNOPSIS: The Thai river-border town on Nong Khai on the Mekong is normally bustling with traffic and travellers. But for a month now, the town's immigration offices have been empty ... since the closure of the border with Laos.

    The Thai government took the decision to suspend all traffic across the river after one man was killed and several injured in artillery clashes with Pathet Lao troops following the grounding of a Thai naval vessel in mid-channel.

    But travellers' aren't the only cargo Nong Khai's ferry boats transport across the Mekong to Vientiane. The river blockade has cut off most of Laos' food, and other imports ... supplies now being airlifted from friendly powers like the Soviet Union.

    And for Non Khai's trishaw men, the drop in tourist trade's proved alarming.

    The only newcomers have been Laotians fleeing the country after the dissolution of the monarchy. Most of them -- nearly all Meo tribesmen still fighting Pathet Lao troops north-east of Vientiane -- have settled into refugee camps in Thailand. Bangkok sees the river closure as an effective way to persuade the Laotian government it's determined to seek an end to Laotian supplies to communist insurgents in northern and north-east Thailand.

    But it's not an aggressive policy ... and Prime Minister kukrit Pramoj has ordered that refugees be urged to return to Laos.

    Thailand's plans for negotiations with Laos and other neighbouring communist states came one step nearer on Friday with the departure of the last United States combat aircraft from Thai soil. Udorn Airbase -- once a major staging-post for the U.S. air war in Indochina -- is now almost empty of U.S. personnel and equipment. The complete withdrawal is expected to be completed by next March.

    Only 45 non-combat aircraft and just over 13 thousand U.S. troops still remain in Thailand.

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