HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Thaksin tasks TAO’s to help War on Poverty

Wear your helmet

PM Thaksin Shinawatra finds a shortcut

Wing 41 opens community shop

Average income in Chiang Mai to be 20,000 baht by year end

Local administration bodies to take over public works

Town planners looking to improve the Ping’s riverbanks

Chiang Mai mayor announces his team

ASEAN-OSHNET meeting held in Chiang Mai

Government workers, police, soldiers and residents get behind Clean Up Day

Parn and Phaya Mengrai districts suffer 10 million baht hail damage

Heaviest gales of the decade hit Fang district

San Kamphaeng hit by storms

301 “cool” number plates up for auction in June

Government promises more funding for CMU physics research

Thailand to be the world’s food kitchen, says central government

Thai Ceramic Company facilitates traffic in Chiang Mai

Giant hailstones hit Mae Chan district in Chiang Rai

Monks and youth try to lower Songkran road toll

Pha Muang Task Force clashes with drug dealers in Mae Ai

Drug traffickers prefer Laos border

Mae Sai Customs’ surprising confiscations

Water shortages? What water shortages?

Thaksin tasks TAO’s to help War on Poverty

But says TAO’s have to upgrade first

Phitsanu Thepthong

Tambon Administration Organization (TAO) members are regarded as grassroots politicians who are close to their local communities as well as to their Members of Parliament, so they are in an ideal position to help develop democracy.

This was the message from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra when he addressed 3,300 participants at the opening of a two-day workshop in Chiang Mai on the three year tambon development plan. “TAO members are part of the rural power structure, but these local administration organizations still lack experience in modern management. If TAO’s improve their efficiency, they could actually help their local people,” said Thaksin. “I want to see TAOs in Chiang Mai develop into good organizations with pilot projects to help tackle poverty. However, they must also be supported by national politicians so that they can help their people and relatives to solve their basic problems,” he added.

The PM cited the War on Drugs campaign. Part of what he considered success was as a result of the cooperation between tambons, local communities and the central government. “This time, we need to tackle the War on Poverty,” he said.

As part of the strategy to bring more money into the local areas, the PM indicated that more jobs, and income, would be generated by attracting foreign visitors and tourists, as well as foreign investment projects. “It is our wish that they come and spend their money here in the local areas of Chiang Mai,” Thaksin said. “The main point in solving the problem of poverty is to join hands, especially in boosting local production, investment and job creation, so that local people can earn more income through business and tourism operations,” he repeated.

He said that a handbook of success stories would be published as a guideline for the younger generation and people who want to be overcome their poverty. This manual would help carry on the work and philosophy of the War on Poverty (hopefully it will be cheap enough for the poor to purchase it). “I hope that the problem of poverty in Chiang Mai can be solved within 3-5 years. This is the challenge to those working to raise the standard of living of the people,” said the PM.

Wear your helmet

It not only makes sense - it’s an order!

Autsadaporn Kamthai

Chiang Mai has woken up to the fact that the majority of road fatalities are motorcyclists, and the principal reason for their demise is the lack of wearing safety helmets. This has been a crusade by the Chiangmai Mail for many months, and finally the powers that be have taken the hint. With Songkran road toll figures that are shameful, anything that can be done to get the local motorcyclists wearing helmets - done up and of a decent standard - is to be applauded.

Chiang Mai’s deputy governor, Prinya Panthong (center) accompanied by Provincial chief medical officer Paisarn Tanyawinichkul, and Pol Capt Pichet Roongruksa of the Chiang Mai Provincial Traffic Police Office launch the “wear your helmet” campaign.

Central Airport Plaza during April 6-7 was the venue for the “Drive safety for Chiang Mai people” campaign, launched jointly by Chiang Mai deputy governor, Prinya Panthong, accompanied by Provincial chief medical officer, Paisarn Tanyawinichkul, and Pol Capt Pichet Roongruksa, of the Chiang Mai Provincial Traffic Police Office.

This campaign targets motorcycle riders, especially students and workers. Of course a beauty contest had to be thrown in, so there was the Helmet Boy and Girl as part of the campaign. During the campaign, quality helmets were also available for purchase at a cheap price to encourage people to buy and use helmets.

Dr Paisarn said that the number of people injured from road accidents during Songkran in Chiang Mai was around 1,600 annually. Deaths in 2003 numbered 16. Of these numbers, 80 percent were motorcycle riders.

Pol Capt Pichet pointed out that motorcycle riders still lack awareness of the dangers of not wearing helmets. Standing on any street corner would show that is still the case, despite the fact that police issue traffic violation tickets for non-compliance with the helmet law more than any other.

He said that from now on, violation notices would be issued by any policeman at any time when motorcyclists were seen riding without a helmet. He said he hopes that this random policing will stop people from keeping their helmet in the carrier and popping it on the head before known checkpoints.

PM Thaksin Shinawatra finds a shortcut

New road map from Mae Orn to Jae Sorn costs 56 mio baht

Saksit Meesubkwang

At a cost of more than 56 million baht, and 12 months in the making, the new 19 km shortcut between Chiang Mai’s Mae Orn district and Lampang’s Jae Sorn was officially opened by PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

PM Thaksin presided over the opening of the new shortcut.

PM Thaksin was welcomed and briefed by Gen Chainant Charoensiri, the commissioner of the Military Development Work Command, who said that this newly improved road was to help the local residents, but it could also be developed to promote eco-tourism route in the area.

The completed road link will be handed over to remain under the care and responsibility of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plants.

Wing 41 opens community shop

But not fly-by-night operation

Jiraphat Warasin

The Northern Park Emporium, part of the Mostplace Group, in front of Wing 41 aims to present buyers with products from all over the world. The Executive Pavilion at Lilavadee Gallery is the ideal business center fully equipped with high speed internet using wireless technology at budget rates.

Handcrafted leather in the form of Buddha image made from cow skin is available at the Northern Park Emporium.

It has strategically targeted this Wing 41 extension to be able to present products from Yunnan into Thailand, for example, or cross borders to other beyond destinations via its Indo-China network facilities through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Visitors are most welcome to the Northern Park Emporium facilities, which as well as shopping opportunities, there is the ability to just sit down with a cup of coffee as a rendezvous for relaxation, going on with business from early flight check-in or unexpected flight delays, awaiting someone’s late arrival or departure, or even a place to wish friends and love ones bon voyage.

(From left) Suphot Kulthong vice chairman of Mostplace, group captain Wisurin Moonla the Wing 41 commander, group captain Thanasak Metahanant, and group captain Treepol Ongpaitoon.

Northern Park Emporium can also supply venues for sporting meetings, business seminars, exhibitions and E-commerce.

Northern Park Emporium opens daily from 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. and its coffee gallery opens daily from 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Average income in Chiang Mai to be 20,000 baht by year end

No guarantee, but that’s the target given to the TAO

Chiang Mai province has set itself the target of raising the income of its citizens to 20,000 baht per head by the end of this year. This was announced by Chiang Mai governor Suwat Tantipat at the workshop on the strategy for Tambon Administration Organizations (TAO’s) to solve the issues of poverty.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was guest speaker at the workshop at the Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel in the city, which was organized by the Chiang Mai TAO Association.

It was attended by TAO chairmen, council presidents, members and permanent secretaries from Chiang Mai to gain a better understanding of the government policy on addressing poverty.

They were told that Chiang Mai would be the first pilot province to raise people’s standard of living through the government’s integration strategy.

Governor Suwat reported that 250,000 people had registered with the authorities as being classified as poor. About 160,000 had complained about a shortage of land for farming, while 130,000 were burdened by debt. “Chiang Mai province has set itself the target of raising income to 20,000 baht per head within this year. Hopefully, we will soon no longer have poor people in this province,” noted the governor.

While the much vaunted CEO style of governance is supposed to allow the organizations like the TAO’s set their own agendas, it was obvious that the strategies are central in origin. Whether these populist approaches can actually deliver the result will be anxiously awaited by the poor in Chiang Mai.

Local administration bodies to take over public works

Decentralize says central government

Saksit Meesubkwang

Local administration bodies should take over public works, town and rural development from central government to better serve local communities, was the conclusion from a workshop held in Chiang Mai.

The Public Works, Town and Country Planning Department and the Chiang Mai Provincial Public Works, Town and Country Planning Office organized a joint meeting under the theme “Strategy in town to country planning”.

Prinya Panthong, Chiang Mai’s deputy governor, presided over the meeting at the Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel in the city.

500 people took part, including senators, members of parliament, heads of government and local administration offices. Also present were officials from local administration organizations from the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Uttaradit, Tak, Phetchabun, Lampang, Sukhothai and Mae Hong Son.

Deputy Governor Prinya said in his opening remarks that current government policy encouraged decentralization and transfer of some central government tasks to local administration organizations. Town and country planning was one of the areas where decentralization could be considered.

He added, “Planning requires technical knowledge. Therefore, the responsible authorities have to be acknowledged and subsequently assigned responsibilities. For this, the officials under their control need to be properly educated about the required techniques in town and rural planning. In this way, they will be able to correctly solve the problems of the community and develop town and rural areas for suitable and sustainable development.”

Town planners looking to improve the Ping’s riverbanks

Pollution a problem

Saksit Meesubkwang

Plans are afoot to refurbish the riverbanks along the Ping River. The plans include conserving, developing, purifying and beautifying the land and buildings along both sides of the riverbank, so that the riverbanks can function as relaxation areas for the public and serve as areas for northern cultural exhibitions. Planners also hope to improve waterway transportation.

Dr. Wason Chormpakdee from Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Engineering, and chairman of the Ping River environment conservation coordinating committee, said that his committee also plans to promote the setting up of sightseeing areas, offering tourists opportunities to experience ancient riverside communities, northern handicrafts and Lanna architectural styles.

Dr. Wason announced the plans during a Ping River conservation seminar last week, presided over by Chiang Mai’s deputy governor, Thongchai Wongrianthong, and attended by 50 participants from the Ping River environmental conservation coordinating committee, Chiang Mai Town and Urban Planning Office and private development organizations.

Dr. Wason also spoke on the Ping River’s water quality, which he said has been so severely degraded, fish can no longer survive. However, last year the river was dredged by the Water Transport Department, which takes responsibility for planning and developing the river flow. 40-50 years ago the Mae Ping River was used as a dump for waste matter, which eventually led to blockages.

“Nevertheless, the Ping River has to be dredged carefully, as the environmental impact can adversely affect marine life. This point is possibly not understood by persons who have never thoroughly studied the environmental impact of dredging the river,” he said.

Chiang Mai mayor announces his team

Three monthly assessments announced as well

Nopniwat Krailerg

Boonlert Buranupakorn, the returned Chiang Mai mayor, has announced the appointments of four municipal councilors as his deputy mayors, three advisors and one secretary for his new administration team.

Manas Sirimaharaj was appointed as the deputy mayor for administration and finance, Chatri Chuamanochan as deputy mayor for public works, Poonsawat Worawan as deputy mayor for sanitation and environment and Soonthorn Yarmsiri as the deputy mayor for education.

The three advisors are Tairoj Ratanajinda, Pitak Tantisak and Wipawan Chaiwong and the secretary is Pornchai Jitanawasatian.

Mayor Boonlert added that there would be ongoing assessments every three months of the deputies. “If any of them are found not working to my satisfaction, I would immediately move him,” he said.

This is the second term for Boonlert Buranupakorn as Chiang Mai mayor and this time he successfully led twenty four members of the Chiang Mai Khunatham group to take all the seats in the municipal council, from the four election areas of Nakhornping, Kawila, Meng Rai and Sriwichai districts. They have four years in which to prove their worth to the citizens.

ASEAN-OSHNET meeting held in Chiang Mai

Singapore to coordinate inspections

Jiraphat Warasin

The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare hosted the fifth ASEAN-Occupational Safety and Health Network board meeting, attended by representatives from 10 ASEAN member countries.

Deputy Minister of Labor Peera Manathas

The four day conference took place at The Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai. Addressed by Peera Manathas, Deputy Minister of Labor, it was pointed out that the workforce was an important contributing factor to every country’s development. Attention should therefore be paid to their health and safety conditions.

The 10 ASEAN countries represented, Brunei, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Laos and Thailand had therefore previously agreed on the establishment of the ASEAN Occupation Safety and Health Network, and would now review case studies of the problems found in each country, offering a chance for ASEAN members to exchange experiences and agree on strategies to address those problems. Singapore was assigned the additional task of coordinating labor inspections.

Each ASEAN country was asked to appoint a representative to the ASEAN Occupation Safety and Health Network board which would meet annually. The director-general of the Labor Protection and Welfare Department would represent Thailand.

Government workers, police, soldiers and residents get behind Clean Up Day

Getting ready for the Songkran soak

Autsadaporn Kamthai

Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat and Chiang Mai Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn jointly declared the Big Cleaning Day promotional campaign underway on April 3.

Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat (left), accompanied by Chiang Mai Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn, swept Charoenmuang Road during Clean Up Day.

An estimated 1,000 Chiang Mai Municipality’s officials, workers, and soldiers from the 3rd Development Battalion, Kawila Camp, 7th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Special Force Regiment and Pack Squadron, Police officers and Chiang Mai residents joined in the campaign.

The Big Cleaning Day was part of the “Chiang Mai - the Beautiful City” campaign that Chiang Mai Municipality set aside to celebrate the 72nd birthday anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen. The campaign focused on cleaning the city’s buildings and streets and decorating the buildings to make them more eye-catching.

The campaign has set three main city roads as target areas - Charoenmuang, Thapae and Ratchadamnoen, and later this campaign will be extended into other areas.

Chiang Mai Mayor Boonlert said that the water quality testing on 21 spots around city moats showed it was clean enough to be used for Songkran and for people to swim in the moats, but not fit for drinking. In case of emergencies, the municipality has readied 220 rescue personnel positioned around the city’s moats.

With the moat now ‘safe’ for the revelers, let us hope the police can make the roads equally as safe. Last year’s Songkran death toll was a blight on the face of the nation and should not be tolerated by any society that considers itself ready for the 21st century.

Parn and Phaya Mengrai districts suffer 10 million baht hail damage

Villagers keep tennis ball-sized hail as mementos

Severe rain and hailstones lashed houses, lychee and longan orchards and chicken farms for one hour in Chiang Rai’s Phaya Mengrai and Parn districts. Houses were de-roofed, crops were flattened and hundreds of chickens that had survived the bird flu cull were also killed. It has been a tough year to be a chicken.

Local people said a hailstorm of this proportion had never occurred in the area before. Villagers are keeping hailstones in the freezer of their refrigerators to show to their grandchildren. Over 600 residences in Phaya Mengrai district were damaged.

Chiang Rai province and Tambon Administration Organization has put aside funds to assist in the rebuilding. Authorities are saying that around 80 percent of the costs for tiles will come from this source.

For crop and livestock losses, the province will provide vegetable and fruit seeds and animals. Unfortunately, this natural calamity might affect farmers abilities to repay debts they owed the largesse of the government village fund. Perhaps they can receive loans from Taksin’s end poverty campaign to pay off their other government loans.

While isolated areas have received water and hail, the drought in Chiang Rai remains with Nong Luang in the Wiang Hang district now totally barren. In the lychee gardens in Wiang Chai district farmers are covering the tree roots with rice straws to attempt to keep them damp.

Heaviest gales of the decade hit Fang district

6,000 villagers affected, swamping authorities with calls for urgent assistance

Nopniwat Krailerg

Residential areas and fruit plantations in the five tambons of Fang district were devastated by windstorms. Aid teams, set up by both Fang district and Tambon Administration Organizations (TAO’s), were mobilized to render immediate assistance.

Billboards collapsed during the storms in Mae Rim district.

Boonserm Jitjiansuwan, Fang district chief officer, said the tempest hit the five tambons of Wiang, Monpin, Pong Namron, Sansai and Mae Kah, covering 31 villages and 6,000 people suffering from the effects.

Eight schools and a similar number of temples suffered severe damage. The damage to homes was extensive, with structural problems resulting, as well as roofs being blown away. Fortunately there were no records of personal injury from flying debris.

The Fang district chief officer, authorities of the five TAO’s, village headmen and village elders, and the territorial security volunteers are currently meeting to assess the damage and to seek assistance from government. Building materials for housing reconstruction, such as roof-tiles, plywood and other materials have already been contributed by the government and the private sectors, and would be transported to the areas of most need.

The cost of the disaster has been estimated to be around one billion baht, at minimum, and Chiang Mai Provincial Authority has been already informed of this.

Other districts reported damage, especially in Mae Rim which was hit by the rainstorm for almost half an hour. Billboards were blown over (though that is no real loss) and some residences lost their roofs.

San Kamphaeng hit by storms

High winds and hail cause much damage

The annual summer storms have hit, with San Kamphaeng bearing the brunt of the ferocity. Hundreds of homes and thousands of mangoes and longans were lost in the snap storm that hit at around 8 p.m.

Residents of Ban Mai Pattana Village, Moo 2, Tambon Rong Wuadaeng, San Kamphaeng District, all joined in to repair the damage, cutting and removing tree branches blocking the road, while waiting for the authorities to come to deal with the fallen power lines. Everyone was affected in some way in the small village, with even their childcare center having to be closed for at least two days for repairs.

Uthai Panyathip, the headman of Ban Mai Pattana Village said that a similar situation happened 10 years ago with a comparable degree of damage. However, after the storm calmed down, he organized the villagers to help each other and informed the city district and the Provincial Electricity Authority of Chiang Mai asking for further assistance. 24 hours later, repairs were still being effected.

Lampang province was also affected with hailstorms wreaking havoc in the Mae Moh area, damaging more than 200 residences in the Huay Rak Mai Village. The storm lasted only a few minutes, but left a trail of destruction. Personal injury from the golf ball sized hail was recorded, as well as roof and window damage and destruction of agricultural plantations. According to some villagers, hail of this size had never been seen before in this region.

301 “cool” number plates up for auction in June

Nopniwat Krailerg

Atsashai Rattranadilok na Phuket, Head of Chiang Mai Provincial Transport Office, has advised that there will be a special auction of “cool” number plates in June this year. The number plates will be those with numbers such as single or double numbers in each alphabetic category, with 301 plates being prepared for the public auction.

An example of a “cool” number plate.

He believes people who win the auctioned plates would not lose, as the registration plates could be transferred, sold, gifted or even passed down to their descendents. The value of these plates would escalate over the years.

The auction will be carried out in June, but in April and May there will be a plate design contest and the winning design would be approved by the Provincial Land Transport Office for putting into a real plate and would be shown at the auction.

Government promises more funding for CMU physics research

Neutron applications could benefit society claims PM

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has announced that the government is ready to finance further neutron research at Chiang Mai University (CMU). He made the announcement during a visit to the physics department at the university’s Faculty of Science.

PM Thaksin was briefed at the Fast Neutron Facility research center at Chiang Mai University. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

“The financial support will go towards helping research work. Great benefits could be gained from this research, with results being applied in various and useful projects including the search for bombs and drugs. If successfully developed and patented, this new technology could be installed at the new Suvannaphum Airport,” said Thaksin.

Work in this field was initiated in 1972 at the CMU. In 1983, the International Nuclear Atomic Office at Uppsala University in Sweden provided assistance to the department. Since then the CMU has carried out further work on ion beam analyses, Rutherford Back Scattering Spectrometry (RBS), particle accelerators and other related research.

Thailand to be the world’s food kitchen, says central government

FDA helps Chiang Mai kitchens clean up their act

Jiraphat Warasin and Kaweeporn Wachirarangsiman

The Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Office has cooperated with four educational institutes in organizing a seminar on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for more than 104 manufacturers in the Chiang Mai food industry.

GMP in this regard covers the minimum standard required in the cultivation, harvesting, processing and distribution of food products, in line with the Health Ministry’s “Road Map of Food Safety” to meet international standards set by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Implementing GMP in food production was seen as necessary for Thailand to meet international criteria and promote the government’s vision of the country as the “Kitchen of the World”.

Sathaporn Wongcharoen, deputy secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said at the seminar that the implementation of GMP would also upgrade the quality of food and water in Chiang Mai, so that consumers would not suffer from food poisoning. “Personally, I would really welcome businesses being penalised if they do not meet safety standards in food processing, because then they might seek information and guidance to improve,” he said.

He said he was delighted with the cooperation given by the educational institutions in offering GMP instructions to food producers. However, he was concerned that certain products had been awarded up to four stars, despite the fact that there was no standardization in labelling. This was in violation of the food safety laws. A manufacturer guilty of violating food safety laws would be fined for the first violation and could lose its permit if it did not take corrective action. Sathaporn also said that any food manufacturer lacking financial capacity to improve or upgrade could apply for a bank loan.

Jaroon Yanasarn, a pharmacist with the Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Office, in his address acknowledged that the health office in the past had been strict only when initially approving permits to food manufacturers. No subsequent inspections were carried out, leading to a fall in the quality of food products. “To maintain a consistent high standard, all enterprises must implement GMP in their food processing,” he said.

A survey conducted by the health office shows that most manufacturers agree with the GMP criteria, however, they still need to receive information and guidance about its implementation. Some major food-producing companies have even hired private consultants for this at great cost, but small and medium-sized enterprises cannot afford to do so.

The Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Office is concerned about the problem but does not have sufficient personnel to help as much as it would like. The four educational institutions - Chiang Mai University, Payap University, Maejo University and Rajabhat Institute have therefore been asked to help support the program by providing personnel.

Professors in these institutions have been asked to act as advisers to food-producing companies that have only limited budgets, so that these could continue their business while improving the standard of their foods.

The seminar was told that at present, food manufacturers in Chiang Mai need to meet only 50 percent of the minimum requirements to receive a permit. However, this would be increased to 75 percent when they apply for their permits to be renewed.

Jaroon added that street food vendors would be included in the scheme, and they would be instructed and guided by health office staff on how to improve their food quality to meet the GMP criteria.

Ong-art Kittikulchai, the owner of Sunsweet Company and representative of Chiang Mai Intermediate Food Manufacturers, said it was necessary for food manufacturers to implement the GMP standards without compromise. He also hoped to see employees in the food industry continuously instructed and trained in GMP by provincial health office staff.

Watchara Sripoh, owner of the Tarnpetch Drinking Water Company, said he wished to see quality evaluation take place in factories every three months and that random inspections take place. “This will encourage every business to maintain high standards all the time. Businesses themselves need to be guaranteed that their products are safe for consumers.”

Thai Ceramic Company facilitates traffic in Chiang Mai

Traffic light control booths donated

Saksit Meesubkwang

With road safety being a foremost need in Chiang Mai, the municipality has received three traffic light control booths to improve traffic flow in the northern capital. These were not purchased and supplied by the traffic department, or local government, but were donated by local private enterprise.

Pol Maj Gen Kasem Rattanasoonthorn (right, front) receives the donation of traffic booths worth 3 million baht from Worakarn Chuto, marketing manager of Thai Ceramic Industry Co (left, center), as other police officers look on.

Worakarn Chuto, marketing manager of Thai Ceramic Industry Co, presented the booths to the Chiang Mai provincial police division in early April for better control of the road traffic. The presentation ceremony was held at the Rincome intersection, where Chiang Mai Police Chief Pol Maj Gen Kasem Rattanasoonthorn, accepting the donation from Thai Ceramics. The three booths are worth about 3 million baht.

Two booths would be delivered and installed at the Rincome and Nong Pratheep intersections and the third would be positioned at the Hang Dong police station for its traffic control.

Worakarn said that Chiang Mai was clearly expanding at a rapid pace, resulting in an increase in the number of road users. The traffic police were there to ensure a smooth traffic flow for the convenience of road users and pedestrians. To be able to do this, they needed the correct equipment.

The traffic lights control booths cost more than most people would imagine because all the materials used in their construction were of the highest quality. The donors, the Thai Ceramic Industry Co had been concerned about the health of the traffic police officers and they considered the gift of the three traffic control booths as their social duty.

In his acceptance speech, Pol Maj Gen Kasem expressed his delight at the contribution of the Thai Ceramic Industry Co, as it was the private sector which recognized the importance of traffic control. Every traffic police official, he said, thanked the company for its social contribution.

Giant hailstones hit Mae Chan district in Chiang Rai

Frightened villagers hide in wardrobes with pets

Samphan Changthong

More than 1,000 families were affected by a severe hailstorm in Mae Chan. Wisit Sittisombat, the chief district officer of Mae Chan district Chiang Rai, led a rescue team to help the victims of the hailstorm that hit thirty villages, especially Ban Sanna, Ban Kiewpraw and Ban Krok, across five tambons.

The villagers were reportedly alarmed by the sight of giant hailstones the size of eggs that were left on rooftops. Roof-tiles were damaged, tree trunks were torn and poultry killed, though fortunately there were no reports of human casualties.

Saman Wangyong, the headman of Ban Sanna village, Moo 3, Tambon Mae Kam, said that all 160 families had been affected by the hailstorm which had caused a blackout. Some families had to set up tents as temporary shelter.

Eye-witness, Mrs Dee Yana, the owner of one house, said that before the disaster struck, the sky was black and a strong wind was blowing. Giant hailstones then started hitting the roof tiles. Family members and pets were crying in fright and hid in a wardrobe before the storm subsided after more than 45 minutes, she said.

Wisit noted that the details of the disaster had been collected for a report to go to the provincial authority, which was expected to pay 80 percent of the cost to replace roof tiles. The local administration organizations would cover the other 20 percent. He added that a team of volunteers had been sent to help the villagers clean up the damage the next day.

Monks and youth try to lower Songkran road toll

Nopniwat Krailerg
and Kaweeporn Wachirarangsiman

100 young volunteers and monks who took part in a campaign to reduce road accidents during the Songkran Festival were surprised by a visit from Suwat Tantipat, Chiang Mai governor, who encouraged them in their endeavours.

Governor Suwat Tantipat with youth volunteers and monks at the road safety campaign.

This was part of a road safety programme run by the monks from the Chiang Mai Merit Development Center, entitled “Getting Yourself Alert Before Getting Your Engine to Go” and targeted road users at 20 gas stations located all over Chiang Mai.

The campaign was launched during the Songkran water festival.

The monks, who participated in training the young volunteers, said that there had been 17 deaths from road accidents during the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai last year, and more than 1,700 injuries. The Maha Vajiralongkorn Merit Development Center, Ayutthaya, had initiated the campaign to try to reduce the number of accidents during Songkran, and student volunteers from schools in Chiang Mai had been trained to promote the campaign. The volunteers were divided into groups of 5 or 10 students and stationed at each gas station in Chiang Mai city between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. from April 9-15.

The young volunteers carried silver bowls of lustral water, asking permission from customers to bless them according to northern tradition. They distributed leaflets and stickers about the campaign and gave a safety blessing for a safe trip.

“The young volunteers are a good example, devoting their time to social service in promoting the campaign in the province,” Governor Suwat said when he visited them and praised them for their contribution in promoting road safety.

Pha Muang Task Force clashes with drug dealers in Mae Ai

Two deaths land a haul of 100 pills

The Pha Muang Task Force received a tip-off that drugs would be smuggled into Thailand across the Burmese border opposite Mae Ai.

Maj Gen Manus Paorik, commander of the Task Force, instructed Cavalry Battalion 135, Special Task Force Unit 3, to launch an operation to obstruct and ambush the drug dealers at Doi Sam Sao area.

In the early hours of the morning, the unit engaged the drug dealers in a running gun battle for about 10 minutes in the area behind Ar Sue village in Tambon Thaton, Mae Ai district, which is about four kilometers from the Thai-Burma border. In the ensuing clash, two drug dealers were shot dead. The task force seized an AK rifle, a Thai hand gun and 100 methamphetamine pills.

The Pha Muang Task Force has sent the confiscated weapons and ya ba pills to the Mae Ai police station and is continuing its investigation into the drug-smuggling operation. While local wisdom would have it that the emphasis is now on crossing the Thai-Laos border, there are still regular crossings from Burma.

Drug traffickers prefer Laos border

Police still on lookout over Songkran

Officials are concerned that drug traffickers will take advantage of the Songkran festival to smuggle drugs into Thailand from across its northern borders. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also noted that drug trafficking was now taking place through Laos, rather than Burma.

Thai citizens had reported that drug smuggling had changed from Burma to the Laos border areas because of the government’s War on Drugs campaign. “Experienced officers have therefore to be recruited to pursue the drug trade and trafficking in the Laos border areas,” said Thaksin.

The PM also responded to reputed public concerns that during the Songkran festival police would concentrate on traffic problems and disregard drug suppression. He responded by asserting that officers would be assigned during Songkran to continue their drug suppression duties.

Mae Sai Customs’ surprising confiscations

Dildo’s plus Viagra good insurance?

The Mae Sai Customs Office confiscated 99 cases of contraband items and other consumables worth 6.81 million baht so far in the 2004 fiscal year, including dildos, Viagra, pornography and gold necklaces.

Customs Office head Pachara Sinsawat said this week that this treasure trove was due to a more vigorous implementation of the policy to prevent and suppress contraband and drug smuggling along the border.

The Customs Office was carrying out joint operations with the Pha Muang special task force to check the border areas, with the approval of the Custom Office for collection of taxes he said.

In one of their hauls, major illegal importers were arrested and smuggled goods valued at 7.7 million baht were seized on March 18. Pachara indicated that the Mae Sai Customs Office had brought in more than expected due to the reorganization of tax scheduling, and an expanded border trade.

Water shortages? What water shortages?

Songkran revelers won’t let something as minor as a major water shortage get in the way of a good Songkran splashing. The annual “water wars” went on as usual this year, once again converting Chiang Mai into one big bathtub. For many, it was a refreshing break from the hot weather we’ve been having.