BANGKOK — A severely indebted Thai rice farmer set herself on fire among a crowd of other petitioners inside the government complaint centre in Bangkok today.
Sangwian Raksapetch, a 52-year-old woman from Lopburi province, was seeking help from officials about the massive debt she owes to a moneylender. Officials say Sangwian’s original debt of 400,000 baht skyrocketed to 1.5 million baht because of a high interest rate.
Suksawat Suwannapong, the official who received Sangwian's complaint, said he was on the phone with another official in Lopburi's Kok Samrong district to seek more information about the debt when Sangwian suddenly shouted "So you can't help me?," doused herself with a bottle of petrol, and set herself on fire.
Bureaucrats at the centre scrambled to help the woman and called ambulance. She has been taken to Vajira Hospital. Rescue workers describe her condition as "critical."
Police said they also found a knife in Sangwian's bag and are investigating the incident.
The complaint centre, which is housed in the Office of The Civil Service Commission (OCSC) headquarters just opposite the Government House in Bangkok, was set up by the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after it seized power on 22 May to receive opinions and grievances from the public.
Despite the country's reputation as a major exporter of rice, many Thai farmers live in poverty and are stuck in annual cycles of debt.