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September 21, 2009

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Stateless boy flies flag for Thailand

A BOY with no official nationality who lives in Thailand captured third place in a Japanese paper airplane contest yesterday after his tearful pleas to compete prompted authorities to grant him a rare temporary passport for the event.

Mong Thongdee, 12, won a national paper airplane championship in Thailand in August 2008 after he threw a plane that flew for 12 seconds, and was later chosen to attend the Japanese contest in Chiba, near Tokyo. But Mong is the son of Myanmar migrants who are stateless and so have no legal right to re-enter the country.

His first application to leave Thailand was denied, but after national media coverage of him quietly sobbing after the refusal captured the hearts of many Thais he was granted a temporary passport.

Mong appeared yesterday in a T-shirt decorated with the Thai flag, whipping his carefully folded airplanes high into the air during the competition.

He placed third in the division for elementary school students with a time of 10.53 seconds. In an earlier exhibition, Mong's airplane stayed in the air for 16.45 seconds.

On Saturday, his three-person Thai team won the group competition. Contestants quickly fold their planes at the event, then throw them into the air.

Mong's ethnic Shan parents have only temporary permission to live and work in Thailand, so although he was born in the country he has only temporary resident status. If he left under normal circumstances, his status would be revoked and he would be barred re-entry.


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