Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo described his evacuation from the cancelled ASEAN summit in a blog post on Monday, adding his personal perspective to media coverage of anti-government protests in Thailand.
The summit of Southeast Asian leaders, scheduled to be held in Pattaya, Thailand, was cancelled on Saturday after supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as Red Shirts, broke through a police cordon and made their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel where the meetings were to be held. The Red Shirt protests later expanded to Bangkok, where they continue to clash with Thai soldiers and police who are trying to restore order.
According to Yeo, ministers attending the Pattaya summit saw few indications of serious trouble until early Saturday, when Red Shirt protesters, demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, blocked the route of the Chinese delegation headed to the hotel for meetings. But even then there was no sign the summit would be cancelled, until lunch when protesters broke through the security cordon.
"Having arrived at the restaurant for lunch early, I was waiting for other ministers when hundreds of soldiers with plastic shields streamed in on the far side of the swimming pool. I decided to go out to take some pictures," Yeo wrote in the blog post carried on the Beyond.sg Web site.
A picture posted on Beyond.sg shows Yeo in a suit, smiling and looking relaxed, while a few dozen Thai soldiers march behind him. Tourists can be seen lazing by the hotel pool, also unfazed by the events unfolding around them.
"I was assured that the soldiers were only having a lunch break. Only later did I find out that the red shirts had broken through the gates and were moving in to occupy the conference center nearby," he wrote.
Shortly afterwards, ministers were informed that the summit had been cancelled and were told to return to their hotel rooms and pack their belongings for an evacuation.
"PM was told by the Thai Government that he and the Singapore delegation should evacuate by sea, to be ferried by small boats to a nearby [naval vessel] which would take us to Sattahip naval base," Yeo wrote, referring to Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong.
"It all seemed quite unseemly to me that leaders and ministers had to leave in this way. But anyway we packed our belongings and waited for instructions since the Thais were responsible for our security," Yeo wrote. "Happily we were informed around 3.30 pm that the demonstrators had dispersed and we could travel by road to U-Tapao with full dignity."
Once the Singaporean delegation arrived at U-Tapao International Airport, they boarded a Singaporean air force transport plane that carried them home and away from the protesters.
"As we boarded the RSAF Fokker transport aircraft, it all seemed like a bad dream. But for the Thais, the nightmare continues," Yeo wrote.