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THE NATION: 980429: Confusion


      Confusion over

      THE weekly meeting of the Chuan Cabinet
      briefly plunged into disarray yesterday as
      ministers were left bemused and
      undecided by the ambiguity of the Labour
      Ministry's policy on illegal foreign labour. 

      The confusion arose from the ministry's
      request for a Cabinet approval yesterday to
      relax the repatriation of illegal immigrants
      employed in 13 provinces bordering
      Burma, Laos and Cambodia and in 23
      other provinces dependent on the fishing

      The ministry had earlier announced that the
      labourers would be forced out by May 1. 

      Labour Minister Trairong Suwankhiri, who
      first declared his tough expulsion policy and
      later retracted it by proposing the leniency,
      was absent yesterday, being on a visit to

      His deputy Jongchai Thiangtham failed to
      answer a barrage of questions from
      confused fellow Cabinet ministers about the
      ambiguity of the ministry's policy, prompting
      Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai to intervene
      by asking for more information from
      concerned officials, an informed
      Government House source said. 

      Chuan himself, the source said, told the
      meeting that he was worried about the
      policy change since it was tabled only two
      days before the deadline for the
      originally-planned repatriation on May 1. 

      The meeting finally agreed to defer taking a
      decision on the Labour Ministry's proposed
      leniency after two-and-a-half hours of
      confusion and referred the matter back to
      the sub-committee studying solutions to the
      illegal labour problem, the source said. 

      The source said any decision announced
      by the sub-committee by May 1 will
      immediately take effect without having to be
      forwarded to the Cabinet for approval. 

      The Cabinet yesterday also appointed
      three more members to the sub-committee,
      viz Deputy Prime Minister Panja
      Kesornthong, Deputy Prime Minister Suwit
      Khunkitti and National Security Council
      secretary-general Col Boonsak

      The same source said that the Labour
      Ministry's policy to repatriate illegal foreign
      labourers was questioned by Cabinet
      ministers who are MPs representing
      provinces where many of the immigrants
      are employed. 

      Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin
      Chidchob quizzed Jongchai as to why
      northeastern border provinces like Si Sa
      Ket and Buri Ram were not included in the
      leniency list and noted that there were many
      illegal immigrants working in rock-grinding
      plants in those provinces and elsewhere,
      the source said. 

      Before leaving for Vietnam yesterday,
      Trairong, in a clear reversal of his earlier
      stand that some one million illegal
      labourers in Thailand must be expelled by
      May 1, said it is impossible to push back all
      of them ''in one day''. 

      ''The repatriation will take time. We also
      have to ponder on who will replace some
      70,000 foreign labourers in the fishing
      industry. Sudden massive expulsion will
      cause serious damage,'' he said. 

      However, he said, police will begin
      arresting illegal immigrants working at
      factories nationwide as originally planned. 

      Trairong earlier said that Thailand, facing a
      severe economic crisis, would have to
      expel the illegal foreign labourers and
      replace them with jobless Thais to help
      cushion the impact on the native population.

      Immigration Police Bureau Commissioner
      Pol Lt Gen Chidchai Wannasathit said
      yesterday that police will start an intensive
      crackdown on illegal labourers in 27
      provinces first. 

      As of yesterday, about 100,000 illegal
      immigrants have been sent home, he said. 


      The Nation