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On Tuesday the 17th of February 2014 the Samui Times met British Ambassador Mark Kent during his trip to Koh Samui at a press conference and the Tessa Baan in Nathon.
During his visit to Samui Mark Kent met with local British Expats to discuss life on the island and the difficulties Brits face and told the Samui Times that road safety on the island was a huge concern for both residents and visitors to the island. The recently formed Road Awareness Kampaign (RAK) on Samui was discussed and the Ambassador showed a great deal of interest in working together with the group to improve road safety issues on the island.
The Samui Times questioned why the procedure for obtaining new passports had been changed and why it was necessary for British ex-pats to have to either travel to Bangkok, or send a representative on their behalf, a change that is both time consuming and expensive for Samui residents. The Ambassador explained that the changes made were global and not specific to Thailand. The changes have been made due to an increasing amount of identity theft crime and the new measures have been implemented to increase security for British Ex-pats, and that it is due to the new security measures that postal applications are no longer acceptable. He went on to say that in extenuating circumstance such as sickness alternative arrangements could be made.
The Samui Times expressed concern for those who are on visas that require a boarder bounce every 12 weeks that their passports may not arrive back in Thailand in time for a boarder bounce due to passport processing delays reported on last year. Nathan Sunley-Smith, Head of Consular Assistance Operations told us that there had been some delays when the changes were first made, however the backlog had been cleared and it is now unlikely that any passport application would take as long as twelve weeks to process.
The Samui Times then broached the subject of the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on Koh Tao last September and asked the Ambassador what the role of the British Embassy was with regards to the crime. He told us that the primary role of the British Embassy in Bangkok was to offer assistance of the families of the victims and push for a fair and transparent trial against the two Burmese accused of the crimes. We then asked about the Metropolitan Police report that was produced after UK offices were allowed to come to Thailand to observe the case the Ambassador was unable to divulge any information reported by the Met and reminded us that the British Police do not have any jurisdiction in Thailand. We then asked if there would be a representative from the British Embassy at the trail that is scheduled for July, he told us that no such request had been made by the families of the victims of the crime.
The Samui Times correspondent than enquired as to why the British Embassy had released a press statement from the families of the victims in which the Miller family said “From what we have seen, the suspects have a difficult case to answer, the evidence against them appears to be powerful and convincing” Our concern was that such words pre trial may influence the judges and as such, had the case been tried in the UK would have resulted in a mistrial. Mr. Kent told us that the British Embassy had not written that press statement, but rather had assisted the families of the victims in releasing the statement at their request.
Back on the subject of safety for British nationals in Thailand, Mr. Kent told us that on average the country receives around one million visitors per year and on average one British citizen dies each day in the Kingdom, however many of those were due to natural causes from the older population of British Expats, although a large number were also from road accidents and that the Embassy were working closely with the Asia Injury Prevention department to address the issue of road safety. Mr. Kent agreed that there was a need to educate British visitors to Thailand, many of whom ride a motorbike for the first time in Thailand, take the decision not to wear a helmet and often drink drive during their visit.
Our correspondent asked Mr. Kent if he was aware that many British Ex-pat were unclear as to what kind of services the British Embassy could actually provide for British Citizens and suggested that many ex-pats, especially older residents and visitors were unable to find the information they need online and suggested that a printed publication could be issued in order to communicate with those who are not computer savvy. Mr. Kent agreed that there was indeed a need to communicate the services available and provide information on the kind of problems the British Embassy can and cannot assist with.
At the end of the meeting the Samui Times agreed to work with the British Embassy and RAK in order to address the issues of road safety in Koh Samui, we will look forward to publishing our progress with that plan at a later date.