Why Thailand still uses discredited bomb detectors
The governments of Thailand and Britain have deemed the GT200 bomb detector unreliable, but the Thai military continues to use it to make arrests in the Muslim south.
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“All cases against insurgents will need to be reviewed. There must be compensation [for wrongful arrest], at the very least,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Exporting 'an empty plastic case'
Global Technical, the UK manufacturer, says it exports it to more than 30 countries and denies any problems have risen from its use. A company spokesperson, Heidi Mallace, said that the Thai government’s tests were “not conclusive” and cited supportive Thai military statements. In a written response, she said the company had more than 150 positive reports from its customers, whose identities she declined to reveal.
“If the operators of the device did not believe that the GT200 worked, do you think they would continue using it?” Ms. Mallace said.
Distributors of the GT200, a black plastic box with an antenna on top, claim that it uses magnetism to detect substances ranging from explosives to narcotics to ivory and corpses. An explosives expert, Sidney Alford who examined it for the BBC described it as “an empty plastic case” that had no electronic parts inside. Neither the British military or any other NATO ally has bought the GT200 scanners.
Mr. Abhisit, who took power just over a year ago with military support, has ordered government agencies to discontinue purchases of the GT200 and a similar scanner ordered by the Interior Ministry. But he has muted his criticism of the military and stopped short of ordering a mass recall.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for Abhisit, said that soldiers still trust the GT200’s findings. “We tell them to be aware and to use it cautiously,” he told a foreign press briefing.
Unchallenged military spending
Ms. Angkhana said she was in regular contact with bomb disposal officers who disputed the claims of their commanders and were angered by the device’s failings. “Most of the local soldiers know it can’t work and don’t want to use it,” she says.
Political analysts say Abhisit is reluctant to challenge the military as he needs their support to contain street protests by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The military staged a coup in 2006 to remove Mr. Thaksin and froze $2.3 billion of his family’s assets. The Supreme Court decided Friday to confiscate $1.4 billion of the money.
The military’s budget soared after the coup, and it began purchasing more equipment from overseas, including the GT200. Thai officials have said that more than 700 scanners have been acquired by military and civilian agencies at a total cost of over $20 million. Global Technical said it had sold an estimated 500 devices to Thailand. It denies any bribes were paid.
“No buyers have taken legal action against GT and no clients have canceled their orders,” says Mallace.