Thai cave boys wave and smile in first public appearance after rescue

Twelve Thai boys and their football coach, rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped, attend a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, following their discharge from the hospital. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2018
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Thai cave boys wave and smile in first public appearance after rescue

  • A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the group arrived in vans from the hospital
  • Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters the celebration would feature a banquet and entertainment, but gave no further details

CHIANG RAI, Thailand: The 12 boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand waved, smiled and offered traditional “wai” greetings in their first public appearance on Wednesday at a national broadcast in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
Doctors, relatives and friends, some in yellow traditional garb, greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar and carried in footballs they kicked gently on the set.
“Bringing the Wild Boars Home,” read a banner in Thai on the set, designed to resemble a football field, complete with goalposts and nets, where the boys arrayed themselves on a dais, beside five members of the rescue team.
A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the group arrived in vans from the hospital where it has stayed since last week’s international effort to extricate it from a flooded cave complex where it had been trapped.
“Today we will get the answers to the questions we have been wondering, from the boys themselves,” said Suthichai Yoon, presenter of the 45-minute program being televised live on dozens of channels.
The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained an average of 3 kg (6.6 lb) each since the rescue, and rain through confidence-building exercises ahead of Wednesday’s event, the hospital director said.
The boys, their coach and some rescuers will answer a series of questions journalists submitted in advance, officials said.
“We don’t know what wounds the kids are carrying in their hearts,” said justice ministry official Tawatchai Thaikaew, who asked for the boys’ privacy to be respected after the discharge, for fear that media attention could affect their mental health.
“The media know the children are in a difficult situation, they have overcome peril and if you ask risky questions then it could break the law,” he told reporters.
The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex for about an hour after football practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
Two British divers found them on July 2, squatting on a mound in a chamber several kilometers inside the complex. All were brought to safety during the three-day rescue, organized by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.
The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists, many of whom left after it wrapped up, but excitement picked up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the much-anticipated appearance.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has granted permission for a party in the Royal Plaza, a public square in Bangkok’s old town, to thank the Thai and foreign participants in the rescue, the government said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters the celebration would feature a banquet and entertainment, but gave no further details.


ANALYSIS: Pakistan’s new government unlikely to improve ties with Kabul

Updated 51 min 35 sec ago
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ANALYSIS: Pakistan’s new government unlikely to improve ties with Kabul

  • Analysts says Ghani’s politically and ethnically divided government has neither the ability nor the options to reduce the new wave of tension and mistrust between the two countries
  • Pakistan may resort to putting further pressure on Kabul until a new Afghan government is in place, say experts

KABUL: When Imran Khan won Pakistan’s elections last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was one of the first leaders to congratulate him. Ghani issued an official invitation to Khan to visit Kabul in an effort to start a new chapter in the historically uneasy relations between the two neighbors.
The sense of optimism in Kabul followed Khan’s pledge in his victory speech that he wanted a EU-style soft border with Afghanistan despite the fact that he had struck a pro-Taliban stance in the past.
Less than a month on, that sense of optimism seems to have faded following events on the battlefield, particularly a major assault by the Taliban on the city of Ghazni last week.
Local officials allege that Pakistan assisted the Taliban in Ghazni, and Ghani subsequently stated that Taliban soldiers wounded in the attack had been taken to Pakistan for treatment.  All of which reduces the odds of any improvement in relations in the near future.
Analysts have suggested that Ghani’s politically and ethnically divided government, which has suffered a number of successive losses in battle, has neither the ability nor the options to reduce the new wave of tension and mistrust between the two countries.
They predict that, instead, Pakistan may resort to putting further pressure on Kabul until a new Afghan government is in place. Presidential elections are currently slated for April.
“I do not think that these challenges and tensions will decrease until a new government comes to power here,” Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst who served as a diplomat in Pakistan told Arab News. “There will be even tougher times ahead, with militants possibly targeting more major cities and even Kabul.”
Saeedi said that recent talks between the Taliban and US officials may further embolden the Taliban to step up their attacks so they can speak from a position of strength in future talks, something he said Islamabad wants in order to balance India’s growing influence in Afghanistan.
He added that Washington and NATO — both of whom have troops in Afghanistan — may only want to prevent the total collapse of Ghani’s government, but that they do not seem to trust “the government’s weak leadership to have the ability to govern.”
Waheed Mozdah, another analyst, said Afghan officials have no strong evidence to prove Pakistan’s involvement in the Taliban’s victory in Ghazni, which has struck another major blow to Ghani’s administration.
He pointed out, too, that Ghani’s allegations are unlikely to help improve relations with Pakistan. “After Ghani’s allegations, I do not think Imran Khan even will visit Afghanistan,” he said. “Ghani’s comments are not helpful at all. He seems to have turned the new government in Pakistan against him.”
When contacted by Arab News, government spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi said Kabul expected these problems to be solved, but did not elaborate on the government’s plans to do so.
During a recent visit to Ghazni, Ghani accused Khan of not honoring his pledge as an ethnic Pashtun and directed the same charge at Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“Imran Khan, you are the son of Pashtun parents. Investigate this and give me an answer. Gen. Bajwa, you have repeatedly given me assurances over phone calls that special attention would be given to the issue of peace in Afghanistan once elections took place in Pakistan. Now give me an answer,” Ghani said, while addressing a group of tribal elders attending the jirga on Friday.