Foot-dragging over king's pavilion stretches Thai patience
The Thai authorities are hoping to build a beautiful pavilion in Lausanne in honour of their king's long relationship with the city. But foot-dragging and opposition by the cantonal government have risked causing a diplomatic incident.
"The Thai government is astonished. It simply cannot understand all these bureaucratic complications," says the outgoing Swiss Ambassador to Bangkok, Bernard Freymond.
"This could tarnish Switzerland's reputation in Thailand," he told swissinfo.
The pavilion is intended as a gift from the government and people of Thailand and will be dedicated to King Bhumibol, who lived and studied in Lausanne. The monarch spent a total of 17 years in Switzerland.
The municipal government gave permission for the 15 metre-high pavilion to be built in July. The ornate pagoda-style structure - topped by a giant golden spire in the shape of a Thai crown - will be erected in the Parc Denantou, not far from the port of Ouchy and the Olympic Museum.
"I believe the pavilion will become a much-loved destination, not only for the people of Lausanne, but also for tourists," says Silvia Zamora, head of the city's environment department.
But despite the approval of the municipal authorities, the Vaud cantonal government, of which Lausanne is the capital, decided to block the project on the grounds that the Parc Denantou was a protected area, despite identifying it as a suitable site in 1999.
Since this slap in the face to the Thais, frantic negotiations have been conducted to prevent this embarrassment turning into a diplomatic incident.
"The dossier has been passed between the city and cantonal authorities a number of times and now a solution is at hand," Zamora said. This solution would entail moving the pavilion a matter of a few metres.
An official from the cantonal environment office confirmed that a compromise was close, although a number of legal hurdles first had to be negotiated, implying yet more delays.
"It was never our intention to upset the Thais," the official, who wanted to remain anonymous, told swissinfo. "But there are planning regulations that have to be respected."
However, Bernard Freymond says the rules allow for exceptions to be made, and that that should have happened in this case, given the great honour that the gift entails.
He pointed out that the Thai authorities had received "with gratitude and absolutely no bureaucracy" two public installations - a solar dial and a marble fountain - donated by the Swiss people in recent years.
The Thai government has maintained an inscrutable silence on the affair, but Freymond was driven to write to the Vaud government to tell them how surprised the Thais were at the way it had behaved. He pointed out that refusing the gift would be humiliating for the entire country.
"I told the cantonal government they should be aware of the possible consequences for the image of Lausanne and Switzerland," he said. He explained that Thais regard Switzerland as a kind of "paradise on Earth", and thousands travel to Lausanne every year to visit the places where King Bhumibol lived and studied.
Silvia Zamora agrees: "Lausanne's image is at stake. It's in our interests to strengthen the city's links abroad".
As for the Thai people, Freymond says they know next to nothing about the affair: "The press has not reported out of sheer politeness. The media don't want to embarrass the king," he explained to swissinfo.
Nevertheless, he says that the court is aware of the difficulties, as he has spoken to the king's elder sister, who maintains close links with Lausanne.
by Roy Probert
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