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Police chief suspended over refugee camp blaze

Claims of victimization after saying it was no accident

Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post

Updated: March 26, 2013 11:26 PM GMT
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Police chief suspended over refugee camp blaze
The blaze at the Mae Surin camp left most of the 3,000 residents homeless (Photo: Bangkok Post, Thiti Wannamnontha
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The fire that ravaged Mae Surin refugee camp on Friday was not an accident, embattled Khun Yuam district police chief Pol Col Nitinart Wittayawuthikul claimed on Tuesday.

The district police chief was transferred, pending an investigation, to an inactive post at Mae Hong Son provincial police office on Monday for alleged negligence in his handling of Friday's disaster in Mae Hong Song's Khun Yuam district. He was also removed from the blaze investigation team.

However, Pol Col Nitinart says he is being punished because he refuses to confirm the deadly fire was an accident.

"Based on my interrogations and fire scene investigations, I could not come to such a conclusion [that the fire was an accident]," Pol Col Nitinart told the Bangkok Post. "Talk to anyone at the camp, ask them what they saw, and you will know how the fire started," he said.

A police investigation source who questioned Mae Surin refugees said several witnesses claimed they saw a helicopter flying above the camp minutes before the fire broke out.

They also reported seeing a burning object dropped from the helicopter on to the roof of a house in Zone 1.

A source from the Office of Aviation for Natural Resource Conservation said none of the office's helicopters had flown above the camp that day. However, he could not confirm if anyone else had flown helicopters over the site.

Meanwhile, Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director-general Chatchai Promlert said he was working with the Provincial Administration Department to design fire prevention measures at refugee camps.

Regular fire drills will be held at nine camps in four provinces to prevent a recurrence of Friday's deadly inferno.

The department is responsible for nine refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, Tak, Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi provinces.

The measures include regular fire drills, the installation of firefighting equipment, and teaching residents how to prevent and control fires.

Mr Chatchai said the department was working with other agencies to provide food, water, shelter and health care services to refugees affected by the blaze.

National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission secretary-general Thakorn Tanthasit said his agency had sought cooperation from mobile phone operators to send vehicles to areas near the Mae Surin camp.

Thaicom Plc has sent several vehicles to provide phone and internet services in the area, Mr Thakorn said.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong, meanwhile, said he had asked health officials to monitor the refugees as some survivors are suffering from psychological trauma and depression.

The officials would also step up measures to prevent the spread of diseases.

Khun Yuam district chief Charnchai Srisathian said many refugees were in dire need of shoes, underwear, powdered milk, soap and toothpaste. He urged the public to donate those items at Mae Hong Son provincial hall or district offices and Red Cross offices nationwide.

Original story: Blaze cop claims victimisation

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