KZN couple’s Thai ordeal

2008-12-01 00:00

“We are panicking; we don’t know what’s going to happen next. All we know is that we are the protesters’ bargaining chip. We are appealing to authorities to act and get us out. They should not wait for Mumbai to happen here.”

This is how Pietermaritzburg-born Lara Diamond (26), who has been stranded in Thailand for seven days, summed up her fears after being marooned in the unstable country.

Lara, a Durban-based recruitment specialist, and husband Grant (32), a financial adviser, are just two of thousands of tourists stranded in Thailand after anti-government protesters took over two main airports leading to the cancellation of many flights.

The Diamonds left the country for Thailand on November 14 for what was scheduled to be a 10-day holiday. However, on Tuesday, November 25, the day they were due to board a flight back home, the protests started and all flights at the Bangkok International Airport were cancelled because of sit-ins staged by the protesters at the airport.

“We were stuck at the airport for about 24 hours without any water or food. Airport officials left and it was the travellers who were stuck there. The next day, Thai Air organised for us to be taken by buses to different hotels.”

Courtesy of Thai Air, the Diamonds and other tourists, including four other South African nationals, were accommodated at a hotel about an hour-and-a-half south of Bangkok. Their stay has not been an entirely pleasant one, they say.

“One day we have a room to sleep in and the next day we are told we don’t and we spend several hours sitting on the pavement outside until we are told we can come back inside again. People here have become tired of us and are very antagonistic,” she said.

While meals are provided at the hotel, they remain short of other essentials.

“The situation is very dire here. We have run out of money and have resorted to begging people for money for airtime to keep in touch with the authorities. We are even afraid to go anywhere. I am also very ill and have been vomiting. There are even young children among us, so the situation is very desperate,” Lara said.

“While they do provide us with meals, we do not know when those are going to stop. We are desperate.”

She expressed frustration at the South African authorities’ apparent lack of interest in assisting them. “Other countries have been in contact with their people in here. If we were not phoning the South African embassy every five minutes, there would be no contact between us and them.”

She is also worried that the South African authorities have not given them adequate information on the state of affairs in Bangkok.

“They have been very vague,” she said simply.

Lara’s mother, Sharon Lennon, a director at a Pietermaritzburg company, has been in contact with the South African Consul- General in Bangkok and the Foreign Affairs Department, but has had little joy.

“That is why we are now calling on the media to report on this so that maybe the government will do something,” she said.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Nomfanelo Kota, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs Department, told The Witness that she could not comment on the issue as she was in Argentina with Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Kota referred The Witness to another spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa. Several attempts to get hold of Mamoepa proved fruitless as his phone rang unanswered.

Jeerasak Pomsuwan, the first secretary at the Thai Royal Embassy in Pretoria, told The Witness yesterday that it was believed that there are 300 to 400 South African nationals stranded in Bangkok.

“We do not have the exact figure, but during the first day of the protest there were about 100 South Africans who were due to board flights that were cancelled on that day alone.”

Pomsuwan said the Thai government is doing everything in its power to assist stranded tourists.

He said some of the interventions include opening up the U-Tapao military airbase, evacuating tourists and assisting them with hotel accommodation while still in the country.

“However, we believe that there is no real threat to the safety of the tourists. These protests are unprecedented and are not directed at tourists,” he said.

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