Thais complain as BBC 'reopens tsunami wounds'

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The Independent Online

The BBC says its forthcoming mini-series, Aftermath, is a "thought-provoking drama of loss, survival and hope". But for many Thais who lost their families in the 2004 tsunami, the film-makers are reopening wounds.

Further outrage has greeted the decision to hire Thais to play corpses at a cut-rate pay of £6 a day for the series, to be broadcast later this year.

Film crews from BBC2 and Warner Brothers' HBO, shooting on location on the Andaman coast for a two-part television mini-series based on the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, are busy making drama out of a crisis.

But some survivors in Khao Lak and Phuket, two of the hardest-hit resorts in Thailand, complain that realistic recreations of the catastrophe are stirring up painful new nightmares,

"It's not right," Trongchai Pachkrau told The Nation newspaper. The former boatman witnessed the deadly waves at Phi Phi island and is stilltoo frightened to work at sea.

"Why are they doing this? It's too early," said Sawitree Kulmat, a tour guide who has seen her revenues plummet because Asian tourists fear wandering ghosts and book their trips elsewhere.

"Nobody wants this. Everyone is trying to forget," she said. " What about people who lost their families?"

Barely 18 months have passed since three-storey-high waves drowned 5,395 people on Thailand's shores and left 2,817 missing and presumed dead. Hundreds of cadavers still await identification. Many survivors are still homeless.

Colin Callender, the president of HBO Films, said the shows would be " dedicated to exploring the cultural and personal fault lines that can be ruptured by such a catastrophe".

The actors who play the Westerners whose idyllic holidays were curtailed by the quake-generated waves include Tim Roth, the British Oscar nominee, and the Australian actress, Toni Collette.

The mini-series features young parents mourning their baby, a British woman whose husband and son get swept away, an aggressive reporter and an overwhelmed British diplomat. The programme is scheduled to be aired in December.Under swollen clouds in the off-season, initial filming ended last month in Phuket. Now the crew is in Khao Lak, where naked survivors of the Tsunami once clung to trees as the backwash from 15-metre waves hurled chunks of concrete and broken glass at them.

"It's disgusting. I almost had a heart attack when I saw a bunch of wrecked cars and a longtail boat up by the bridge. The first moment was pretty terrible - real déjà vu. I thought maybe it was a flash flood," said Bodhi Garrett, the director of North Andaman Tsunami Relief, which runs education and economic recovery programmes for victims. "If there had been a simple warning sign that this was staged for the cameras there would have been a lot less offence caused."

The jungle highway was littered for months by the rusted hulks of boats and cars and the holiday gear unclaimed by the dead.

Mr Garrett said: "If some profits go towards helping local victims recover, that would be better." He was pleased to learn Thai extras would receive 400 baht [£6], almost double the standard wage for a day labourer.

But Robert Reynolds, who runs a charity for tsunami orphans in Krabi province, was incensed after discovering Western extras were routinely paid 1,400 baht [£20]. He says he wrote to executives at the prize-winning Kudos productions, demanding that they take care not to offend. "Thais lost everything," he pointed out to The Nation. "They had no homes to go back to."

Spokesmen from HBO and the BBC were unavailable for immediate comment last night.