HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Songkran road fatalities down - by 1

Songkran revenue 720 million baht

Forestry office ready to chop down deforestation criminals

Chiang Mai Municipality raises concern over burning off outdoors

Central government’s plans for the eight northern provinces

Senators to protest Chinese dam building

More Songkran road toll statistics

Ban Tawai selected as OTOP pilot scheme village

Wing 41 gets new planes - and new pilots

Police extortion racket alleged

E-Cop ready to make E-Arrests?

Chiang Rai Songkran tourism beats expectations

Chiang Mai conducts pilot study for asset conversion scheme

Drowned phones another Songkran casualty

Chiang Mai governor honoured in Rod Nam Dam Hua ceremony

Chiang Rai expecting real estate boom

Summer storm blasts over the upper north

Phayao Provincial Authority pushing local fashion workshops

American tourist stabbed and robbed in guesthouse

American worker at hill tribe center found dead

Police successfully defuse grenade at Southern Muang Samut Market

Six members of ‘White Face’ gang left red-faced

Traffic police officer seriously injured by teenage driver

Cultural exchange Chinese film crew finds rude currency exchange

Petrol station heist nets thief 170,000 baht

Songkran road fatalities down - by 1

Nopniwat Krailerg

Road accidents during the Songkran festival claimed 15 lives in Chiang Mai between April 9 and 18, with another 1,705 people injured. The road toll in Chiang Mai was one down on last year’s Songkran holiday when 16 people died in Chiang Mai, and 931 people died on the roads countrywide.

Chiang Mai police became stricter on enforcing road safety and traffic regulations by setting up checkpoints.

The Chiang Mai traffic control center reported that nine males and six females died on the roads. Of those injured, 1,208 were males and 497 females. The majority of accidents involved motorcyclists, followed by drivers of pickup trucks and sedan cars. Sixty percent of the motorcyclists involved in road accidents were not wearing helmets.

The government had ordered stricter enforcement of traffic regulations this year, particularly with regard to safety helmets for motorcyclists, safety belts for drivers, and apprehending drivers under the influence of alcohol. This had resulted in an increase in arrests, charges and fines this year, the traffic control center reported.

In Chiang Mai, a provincial authorities center for road safety had been formed by the Public Disaster Prevention and Relief Operations Office under the Ministry of Interior, with the co-operation of the Chiang Mai Provincial Land Transport Office, district officers and provincial police officials.

Checkpoints were set up and manned 24 hours a day on more than 48 routes that were regarded as high risk for accidents. Special emphasis was placed on blood alcohol testing. With 28 kits available, officers were able to test about 3,640 people every day.

Chiang Mai deputy governor, Prinya Panthong said, “We aimed to keep the number of road fatalities under 17. Actually, we don’t want to see a single person die on our roads. However, sometimes you can get hit by a car while just crossing the road. The cause may not always be alcohol-related, but could be due to carelessness. Therefore, we are placing emphasis on every district to continuously publicize road safety measures.”

Despite the rhetoric, it was very obvious during Songkran that motorcyclists ignored the safety helmet decree. Until they do, they will continue to be the ‘most killed’ category.

Songkran revenue 720 million baht

But most of it came from the locals

Kaweeporn Wachirarangsiman

According to the Chiang Mai Press Information and Co-ordination Center, citing figures supplied by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, more than 1.4 million tourists flocked to Chiang Mai for the Songkran festival this year, spending 720 million baht and resulting in occupancy rates at a whopping 95 percent. The statistical period in Chiang Mai covered the Grand Lanna Civilization Songkran Festival from April 10-15.

Tourism-related business reported that most tourists were Thai - 70 percent being the agreed figure. Of the 1.4 million visitors, about 350,000 were from Bangkok and other provinces.

An estimated 635,000 people visited the Grand Lanna Civilization Songkran Festival which ran from April 2-15 at Nong Buak Had Park including the fountain performance in front of the Chiang Mai municipal office. About 12 percent of these were from Bangkok, 28 percent from other provinces, while 60 percent were locals. Some 97 percent of these visitors were Thais. Up to 86,000 people watched the Grand Lanna Civilization Parade on April 10 alone, while about 6,000 people attended the fountain performance.

Thai Airways International reported that every flight between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and return was full from April 10-16. It had to provide one extra flight daily from April 9-16. Bangkok Airways also reported fully booked flights.

State Railway of Thailand (SRT) said it had to increase the number of train carriages due to passenger demand, and the Chiang Mai Land Transport Office also had to provide 40 more buses daily for both outgoing and incoming trips during the water festival.

Forestry office ready to chop down deforestation criminals

Forestry officials have issued a warning that it will confiscate the property of people who trespass on forest lands and are guilty of deforestation in the Fang, Mae Ai and Chaiprakan districts of Chiang Mai.

Wichai Laemwilai, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants, said the department has been concentrating on the prevention of forest fires and deforestation in the northern region since April 5.

It had collected evidence that “Capitalists, government officials and local politicians” had trespassed on and deforested the woodlands. If the Forestry Office found specific evidence which identified lawbreakers, legal steps would be taken to confiscate their properties, he said.

The office already had identified three alleged offenders who would be charged with destroying large tracts of forest in Mae La Noi district, Mae Hong Son province.

Much deforestation is caused by hill tribes who cut down the trees to create new agricultural land. However, “Some capitalists encourage the hill tribes to invade forest areas for some particular purposes,” Wichai alleged. The Forestry Office needed to collect more evidence to confront the alleged offenders, he said.

Chiang Mai Municipality raises concern over burning off outdoors

Chiang Mai Municipality has announced that the air quality in the city has gradually deteriorated and contamination is now above safe limits.

Chiang Mai’s air contains many contaminants that may harm people’s health. According to a study by the Chiang Mai University’s Social Research Institute, it was found that burning outdoors causes 50 percent of the pollution in the city. As well as producing smoke, dust and bad smells, burning off also releases cancer producing contaminants into the air.

The Chiang Mai Public Health Office has reported that the number of patients with respiratory system diseases has steadily increased from 487,213 in 1994, to 626,950 in 2000 and 704,800 in 2002.

Similarly, the incidence of lung cancer jumped from 64.96 per 100,000 people in 2001 to 138.87 per 100,000 people in 2002, a doubling in two years. With this kind of evidence behind it, the municipality has expressed its concern over outdoor burning off. To improve both air quality and the health of Chiang Mai residents, it has therefore urged the public not to burn garbage and paper in areas close to their houses. Incidentally, burning garbage outdoors is a violation of municipal by-laws.

Central government’s plans for the eight northern provinces

Includes promotion of Buddhism to stem growth of other denominations

Saksit Meesubkwang

The central government convened a meeting of governors, deputy governors and high-ranking officials from Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Phrae, Nan, and Phayao at the Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai on April 17.

Dr Wissanu Krea-Ngam, Deputy Prime Minister

The meeting was addressed by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam and informed the 500 attendees at the meeting of the government’s strategic plans to develop the regions.

Deputy PM Wissanu reported the direction that the government wants to see as far as the development of the regions is concerned.

* Lampang province will place emphasis on the development of ceramic products;

* Lamphun will focus on the Northern Region Industry Estate;

* Chiang Rai on its role as the entrance gate to the world trade;

* Phayao on its “Livable City” project;

* Chiang Mai as the “City of Health and Life”;

* Mae Hong Son on its eco-tourism;

* Nan on its good government; and

* Phrae on its teak industry.

He added that these strategic plans should dovetail with the four main national strategic plans - the war on poverty, improvement of the country’s competition potential, improvement on the quality of life for Thai people; and sustainable development.

The deputy PM said he had been appointed to watch over the implementation of government policy for Zone 1, the upper north. He urged those present to continue the policies set out by the former deputy PM, Dr Somkid Jatusripitak.

He also encouraged them to increase tourism to their areas, and take care of the arts and culture, religion, and to work with an attitude of service, and impress the public.

He urged the governors to persuade residents to attend temples to study Buddhist teachings and make merit every Sunday, and set up Buddhist religious places in their provinces as centers for performing Buddhist rituals to prevent the propagation of other denominations.

He also suggested the governors and media should encourage people to plant the Ratchapruek (or Cassiafistu) tree and fly the Thai national flag in front of their houses.

Senators to protest Chinese dam building

Fears of devastating damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Mekong River are spurring the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to send a letter to the Chinese government, calling for a halt to all further damming of the upper Mekong.

Noting the extensive destruction of the environment caused by the Chinese government’s efforts to dam the Mekong and dynamite islands and rapids, Sen. Kraisak Chunhavan, chair of the foreign affairs committee, warned that the ecological time bomb on the river was now beginning to explode.

Extensive damming operations by the Chinese government oblivious to seasonal variations in the ecological cycle has led to the rapid erosion of river banks and a consequent loss of farm land, while blasting rapids had left fish without breeding grounds and led to a massive reduction in the river’s fish population.

Most importantly, the Chinese operations have served to change the course of the river; thus, affecting the already contested border separating Thailand from Laos.

“The more rapids that are blasted to allow large Chinese freight vessels to sell goods in Thailand, the more Thailand is put at a disadvantage,” Kraisak said, adding that the views of the Senate committee had already been forwarded to the government. He also confirmed that the committee plans to send a protest letter to Beijing to call for a halt to damming and blasting operations on the Mekong.

The Mekong River Commission, which China has refused to join, recently warned that the 3,000-meter long river, which flows from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is now at its lowest level in recorded history.

Niwat Roikaeow, a leading member of a non-governmental organization supporting the preservation of the ancient Mekong settlement of Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai Province, said that a Chinese official had been sighted in the area preparing to engage in blasting work. Noting that no Thai officials were present, he accused the Thai government of neglecting the environmental damage that the Chinese are causing.

“This indicates that officials from Thailand’s central government aren’t interested in this issue. They allow the Chinese authorities to enter at will,” he said.

He observed that Thai soldiers along the border were unhappy with this neglect, as they received no advance warning from China. “We have never supervised, inspected or helped in the decision-making of these Chinese officials who come into our country. It’s as if we allow China to come in and do whatever it wants. This is Thailand’s flaw. These rapids are currently undergoing an environmental impact assessment by the Thai authorities. China should respect this,” he said.

The Chinese government has long been planning to blast the Kai and Don Phee Lon rapids out of existence to make the Mekong navigable as far as Luang Phrabang in Laos. But in March last year the Thai government ordered that the plans be put on hold pending an environmental impact assessment, fearing that the blasting works would damage the environment, adversely affect local lifestyles and change the course of the river which marks the border between Laos and Thailand. The 10-month assessment is due for completion in June. (TNA)

More Songkran road toll statistics

Some provinces report lower figures, some greater

Nopniwat Krailerg

The eight provinces in the upper north of the country have recorded a drop in the combined total of deaths and injuries during Songkran this year compared to last year. The Road Safety Control Operation Center’s report covers the period from April 9 to 18.

In all, 64 people were reported to have died in road accidents (79 deaths in 2003). There was also a 6.7 percent drop in the number of people injured, 5,418.

Drunk driving was the major cause of accidents and not wearing safety helmets was the major contributing factor to the severity of the injuries.

Lampang was the only province that recorded an increase in the number of fatalities, with 10 people reported killed, four of them in a car crash. Last year, the province recorded eight deaths while the death toll in Phayao and Mae Hong Son was the same as last year.

Chiang Rai province had the highest number of fatalities, 18, although this was lower than last year’s toll of 26. The number of injuries, however, increased from 900 last year to 1,116 this year. Every single injury but one involved motorcycle riders.

Phrae province saw 395 accidents, in which four people died. In Nan province, there were 358 accidents, causing four deaths and 354 injuries. During Songkran 2003, the figures were 422 accidents, seven deaths and 415 people injured.

The number of accidents in Phayao was the same as last year, with seven fatalities and 596 people injured.

Mae Hong Son recorded 107 accidents. Only two people were killed and 30 injured. The low figure is linked to the small number of tourists to the province.

In Lamphun, there were four deaths with 435 people injured in Songkran accidents. The figures last year were three and 61 respectively.

Lastly, Chiang Mai, the most sought-after tourist destination, recorded 15 deaths and 1,075 injuries down from 16 deaths and 1,717 injuries last year.

Ban Tawai selected as OTOP pilot scheme village

OTOP explained

Ban Tawai Village, where entire families earn their living as wood carvers, has succeeded in getting recognition as an OTOP pilot scheme village.

OTOP stands for “One Tambon One Product” and is a government program to inspire communities to profit from their heritage. Tambon is the Thai word for village or sub-district.

As part of the program, the government gives villages a financial incentive to promote and produce what they are renowned for to create a larger income for the entire community.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is promoting Ban Tawai Village as a tourist attraction with its woodcarvings available for sale. Ban Tawai Village will be part of the tourism network that includes Wiang Kum Kam and San Kamphaeng District.

The village has already experienced a positive result, as more Thai and foreign tourists visited this year due to Chiang Mai being selected as organizers of the Grand Lanna Civilization Songkran Festival. Tourists said they were impressed by the skill of the carvers and bought wood carvings and other handicrafts as souvenirs because they were cheap and of good quality. They also said they were able to understand the value of the wood carvings because they could watch while they were being created, and could appreciate the skill and artistry that went into the final product.

Wing 41 gets new planes - and new pilots

Fly boys fly in

Jiraphat Warasin

A welcoming ceremony for seven L-39 ZA/ART pursuit planes was held at Wing 41, in Chiang Mai. The planes were being commissioned to replace the OV-10 C turbo-prop aircraft which were decommissioned on March 31.

Wing 41 personnel presented garlands to welcome the new pilots of the L-39 ZA/ART pursuit aircraft.

In keeping with the Royal Thai Air Force policy on relocating aircraft, the pilots and aircraft technical officials from 401 Squadron, Wing 4, Taklee district, Nakhon Sawan province, were moved with the fighter planes to Chiang Mai.

The pursuit aircraft did a fly by during the air show.

The relocation was deemed necessary to create a balance in the country’s air-strike capacity to ensure stability and close support for air defense in the northern region when it is required.

Group Captain Man Sritajit, deputy commander of Wing 41, was present at the ceremony and delivered the welcoming speech and placed garlands around the pilot’s necks.

Police extortion racket alleged

Claims immigrants targeted by corrupt police

Corrupt traffic police officers who allegedly have been squeezing money from foreign workers and illegal immigrants are soon to feel the squeeze themselves.

Pol Lt Gen Chalor Chuwong, commissioner of Provincial Police Bureau, Region 5, has ordered an investigation into claims that officers stationed at the police booth near Ton Lamyai Market in Chiang Mai have been extorting money from foreign workers.

Members of the public and merchants from the nearby Ton Lamyai Market informed the local media of the alleged extortion taking place at the police traffic control booth. Foreign labourers and people who do not speak Thai fluently would be called into the booth and bullied into handing over money to the officers before they were set free, it was claimed.

It was also claimed that this group of traffic police would patrol the Chiang Mai bus station and seize immigrant workers. When the alien laborers got out of the buses, the police officers would summons them to the side of the street and demand money.

The police commissioner said he takes the complaint seriously and has ordered Pol Lt Col Weerayut Prasopchokchai, deputy superintendent of Chiang Mai Traffic Police, to investigate and to report back to him in detail.

“The police stationed at the booth will be questioned. Every police officer is duty bound to service the public. If any official, irrespective of rank or position, is found guilty, he will not be allowed to remain in the police service and will be subject to severe penalties,” Chalor said.

E-Cop ready to make E-Arrests?

Chiang Mai police go high-tech in fight against crime

Nopniwat Krailerg

As criminals have become more desperate and sometimes more sophisticated, police officers need to improve their law enforcement methods to guard and protect you, the innocent citizens. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case, as police have lagged behind in the age of modern information and technology.

This is changing in Chiang Mai, thanks to the far-sighted approach of Pol Maj Gen Wutti Wittitanon, the deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Bureau, Region 5. He is the driving force behind the “E-Cop” project, in keeping with the government’s vision of promoting Chiang Mai as one of the country’s leading ICT cities.

The Police Bureau, Region 5 has developed a computer program exclusively for internal communication. The system is restricted to the police and accessible only with their individualized passwords.

The program is being used to send and receive official documents and urgent commands and messages within the eight upper northern region provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan, Phayao and Mae Hong Son.

Police officers stationed at every police station in the region completed their training in the new system on March 30. Chiang Mai began implementing the E-Cop project by filing accident and general criminal cases on computer during the Songkran festival.

Pol Lt Col Kritsana Polnark, the inspector in charge of policy and planning for Chiang Mai Provincial Police, is in charge of the project. He told Chiangmai Mail that the principle behind it is to link up information from the Provincial Police Bureau, Region 5 to the General Staff Division, Provincial Police Division and police stations concerned. The project is now running in all the northern provinces except Mae Hong Son.

The E-COP project was launched at the Provincial Police Bureau in January 2004, the first provincial police bureau in the country to do so. Each provincial authority will be responsible for paying for its implementation.

Chiang Mai Provincial Police Division, has signed a contract with TOT Public for rental of its connection network. The division will use the lead line system, which means they can connect instantly instead of using a dial-up connection as in the past.

At present, 30 phone lines are rented for each police station, enabling quick communication with the Provincial Police Bureau, Region 5 and every provincial police division 24 hours a day. This also means facsimiles will no longer be needed - saving both time and paper.

The E-COP project has been used on a trial period since January, but from this month, it is being formally implemented.

It is foreseen that it will also be used to link up with the courts, to expedite the issuing of search warrants and for coordination with an Inspector of Inquiry in filing a lawsuit.

The system in future could also be used to access census registration information and the Department of Land Transport’s vehicle registration information.

Another planned technological innovation is the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at about 80 strategic points, such as the Night Bazaar, markets, parking lots, significant sightseeing sites, and other crowded areas. This will enable police at control centers to monitor criminal activity or accidents 24 hours a day.

Previously, CCTV cameras were not installed because of problems with the fiber optic channel. However, TT&T has made it possible with the installation of high-speed Internet connection with ADSL technology, which also helps cut costs considerably.

The CCTV project budget is estimated to cost 10 million baht and details have been sent to Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat for official approval. Pol Lt Col Kritsana said, “If closed-circuit cameras are installed around the province, we predict a five percent drop in crime because criminals will know they are being watched. We also might know when and where crimes have taken place even before they are reported, because we have observed them on the monitors. The footage may also be used as undeniable evidence in criminal cases,” he said.

Chiang Rai Songkran tourism beats expectations

Shoppers snap up cheap Chinese chintz

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Northern Office, Region 2 has released the tourism figures for Chiang Rai, over the Songkran period.

The Mae Sai border market, Doi Tung Palace, Golden Triangle and Mae Fa Luang Park were the top spots visited by the tourists with just under 5,000 visiting and shopping at the Mae Sai border market on April 12 alone. Chinese manufactured goods such as clothes and electronic appliances were the most popular items snapped up.

Many tourists holidayed at the Mae Sai border itself. The parking area proved to be insufficient for the hordes of visitors, many of whom had to park their cars along the road sides heading to the market and take mini-buses the rest of the way.

The hotel occupancy rate in Chiang Rai stood at 90 percent, which is much higher than usual. Most holidaymakers stayed at moderately priced hotels, rather than five star accommodation, TAT officials reported.

Chiang Mai conducts pilot study for asset conversion scheme

IT being used to collect the information

Nopniwat Krailerg

The Lands Department has been working to accelerate the issuing of land title deeds and on the development of their management information system (MIS) under the government’s asset conversion policy. During the first phase, October 1 - December31 last year, the land title deeds were processed and issued.

For the second phase, from January 1 - September 30, 2004, more land will be surveyed and title deeds issued.

To be able to speed up this issue, the Lands Department has set up a pilot project for the development of MIS in Chiang Mai’s Muang and Phrao districts. In the future, the MIS will be applied over the country. The government has budgeted 183 million baht to be spent this year.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stated during his recent vacation in Chiang Mai that the government has launched the asset conversion scheme to make land available to disadvantaged people to be used for earning income.

The PM added that he did not want people who have been given land title deeds to sell or transfer them, as this action would contravene statutes and undermine the government’s objectives for the scheme.

Drowned phones another Songkran casualty

Condom use not recommended (for the phones)!

Jiraphat Warasin

More than 60 mobile phones were brought in for repairs at the Nokia Care Centre at the Chiang Mai Central Airport on April 16, 40 of which were damaged by water. That is part of the legacy of annual Songkran water wars.

Monchai Pongsiri, Nokia marketing officer, said drenched mobile phones could sometimes be resuscitated, but not all made complete recovery. “Water most often leaks in through the keyboard, but a mobile phone should not be turned on if its owner is not certain whether water has leaked in or not, because water could damage the main board.”

Instead, he advised taking out the removable parts of the phone, such as the battery and simcard, and rub them with a dry cloth and blow dry with an electric fan. “You must not use an electric hairdryer, as heat can also harm the main board,” he said.

In the case of drowning, the cell phone should be taken to a repair center immediately. It should take under two hours to investigate any damage. Repairs would cost a minimum of 350 baht. “This does not include the price of spare parts,” Monchai said.

“If water has leaked into the main board, the memory unit may have been damaged. If the phone circuit is broken, the cost to repair it could be as high as 3,500 baht, as the whole main board has to be changed.”

In those circumstances, the center staff would recommend that a new mobile be purchased instead, because it would not be economically worthwhile repairing the damaged one.

His advise for Songkran 2005 was simple. “Next Songkran, in your next water fight, do not risk expensive damage to your phone by carrying it around with you. Even placing it in a plastic bag or condom only reduces the risk; moisture may still get in,” he warned.

Chiang Mai governor honoured in Rod Nam Dam Hua ceremony

Nopniwat Krailerg

A colorful procession with hill tribes dressed in their Lanna costumes, officials, housewives and members of the private sector descended on the Chiang Mai governor’s residence on April 15 to the accompaniment of bright Tung flags and merry traditional music.

Governor Suwat Tantipat and his wife Ornadda Tantipat, with members of the Chiang Mai press. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

They had come to carry out the traditional Rod Nam Dam Hua water-pouring and blessing ceremony as part of the city’s Songkran celebrations.

The procession began from the Three Kings Monument at 1 p.m. and moved along Ratchadamnoen and Thapae roads and finally stopped at the governor’s residence on Charoenprathet Road. Many Thai and foreign tourists watched and joined the procession as it proceeded through the city.

Members of the public pay respect during the Rod Nam Dam Hua ceremony at the governor’s residence. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

The ceremony began with Deputy Governor Prinya Panthong, as the representative of Chiang Mai’s residents, and other deputy governors and permanent secretaries blessing Governor Suwat Tantipat and his wife.

Members of the public then poured scented water over the hands of the governor and paid their respects to him and his wife, presenting them with agricultural products. The governor sprinkled water over those present in return.

Governor Suwat wished everyone a good standard of living and a prosperous New Year.

The governor also pledged that after the Thai New Year celebration, he would work for Chiang Mai’s people, especially on the poverty eradication policy promoted by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Chiang Rai expecting real estate boom

Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge the catalyst

The real estate business is booming in Chiang Rai in anticipation of the opening of the second Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge at the Mae Sai border later this month. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Burmese counterpart are expected to do the honours.

Patchara Sinsawatra (apparently not related to the PM), head of the Customs Office at Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai province, said the bridge was due to open on April 30, the same day as the Thai and Burmese cabinet ministers meeting.

With the forthcoming opening, there had been a significant rise in real estate deals, especially in Mae Sai district, as new investors and economic development is expected to follow.

Patchara reported that an asphalt road in the Ban Sanpakhe village area had been constructed at a cost of over 38 million baht. “By the middle of this year, about 443 million baht will be allocated for land purchase, land upgrading, by-pass road construction, a customs house, immigration office and other offices and facilities. However, for now officials will be working in cargo containers as temporary offices.”

The opening of the bridge is seen as a sign of mutual friendship and a link from Thailand to Burma and China, to allow continuation of trade when low water levels make it impossible for cargo ships to use the Mekong River.

Since news of the bridge construction became public, investors have expressed interest in buying land along the Mae Sai by-pass road near the entrance to the bridge. A number of plots have been sold at more than 10 million baht. A boom in housing construction is expected to follow.

Tipawan Chuajedton, a businesswoman and land broker in the border area, said at the Tai Lua Cultural Weaving Fair that she had more than 100 rai of land on which she was prepared to build a Tai Lua tribal museum complete with houses built in traditional style, near the golf course on the by-pass road in Mae Sai district. Guesthouses and hotels along the road to the bridge would cater to motorists travelling to Burma.

Umporn Srisamut, a committee member of the Thai-Burmese Economic and Cultural Association, said the opening of the second bridge was good news for people from both countries. She also expressed the wish that the economy and tourism be vigorously promoted so that more investors and travelers would come to Thailand.

This would result in more revenue for the country.

She referred to the establishment of a tax-free industrial settlement in Tambon Sridonmoon, Chiang Saen district, about 30km from the bridge. “The price of land in this area is not too high, starting from 500,000 baht per rai,” Umporn said. “So that is an incentive for investment. If there is real support from the government, economic development here need not remain as only a dream,” she said.

Summer storm blasts over the upper north

Came from Burma via Mae Hong Son

Autsadaporn Kamthai

A summer storm hit the eight provinces of the upper north in the early hours of April 19. Very high winds were recorded, as well as rain and potential hail, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The storm originated in Burma and entered Thailand through Mae Hong Son province. The strong winds and rain continued throughout the upper northern provinces, with no abatement, according to Weapon Kunawiweatthanangkul, a meteorologist at the Northern Regional Meteorological Center. He warned residents, “Rain and strong winds may continue for two or three days and may even bring hailstorms.”

“The wind velocity is 33 knots, which is considered as quite severe. Roofs of dilapidated buildings may be torn off and trees uprooted,” he said.

The provincial authorities are keeping a record of the damage to estimate of cost of the storm.

Phayao Provincial Authority pushing local fashion workshops

Textile, jewellery and leather goods manufacturers to get boost

Sirikul Phanpanya

The Phayao Provincial Authority and the Jewellery Industrial Center have combined their efforts to make the province a hotspot for fashion.

The director of the center, Ms Niramai Sirisrisudakul, said it would arrange a workshop next month to elevate the textile industry.

Phayao province is expected to become a hub of training, assembling, developing, manufacturing, designing, displaying and trade, of the upper north for textiles, jewellery and ornaments, and leather goods.

She said textiles would be the first to be placed under the spotlight, targeting clothing weavers, designers and manufacturers.

The workshop for the textile industry will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Jewellery Industrial Center, Tambon Mae Ka, Muang district, Phayao on May 4.

Textile manufacturers, clothing designers and textile production groups in Phayao and other provinces of the upper north are welcome to attend.

Participants are asked to bring samples of their work if they would like advice from experts on how to improve their products.

The workshop is free of charge. For more information, please call 054 439 133-5.

American tourist stabbed and robbed in guesthouse

Police investigating, but no arrest yet

An American tourist has been stabbed and robbed by an intruder who broke into his room in the early morning. Forty-seven year old John Harem was asleep in a guesthouse on Charoenprathet Road when an unidentified man broke into his room at 5 a.m. Harem woke up while the robber was going through his belongings. He confronted the man, and a scuffle took place. The assailant then brandished a knife and stabbed him in the arm and head.

The assailant made off with three credit cards, cash worth 8,000 baht, a driving license and other documents. Police from Muang Chiang Mai police station investigated and collected a sample from a bloodstain in the American’s room.

American worker at hill tribe center found dead

No evidence of foul play

Saksit Meesubkwang

An American computer trainer at a hill tribe center has been found dead in his room. It is suspected that he died of a heart attack. Chiang Mai police reported that 51-year-old Jerry Swift, who worked at the center in Tambon Nong Hoi, was found dead in his rented room on April 19.

Passport photo
of Jerry Swift.

Police officers from Mae Ping police station were alerted after the caretaker noticed offensive odors emanating from the American’s room. The body was found on the bed dressed in white shorts and socks. Police assumed that he had been dead for at least three days judging by the state of the corpse. There was no evidence of violence either on the body or in the condition of the room.

The caretaker told police that Swift was friendly and got on well with other people living in the area. He had never been involved in any quarrels, and had been renting a room for over five months.

The caretaker said he had not seen Swift for two days and thought he gone on vacation during Songkran. However, he had noticed the odor and unlocked the room, then finding the body.

An autopsy will be carried out at the Maharaj Nakhon Chiang Mai Hospital to determine the exact cause of death.

The US consulate-general in Chiang Mai has been notified of the death.

Police successfully defuse grenade at Southern Muang Samut Market

Staff reporters

Chiang Mai police have defused an M-75 grenade planted in front of a fish shop at Southern Muang Samut Market.

A passer-by found the grenade in a black bag placed near an electric pole in front of the shop on Muang Samut Road, Chiang Mai at around 3 p.m. on April 20.

The area where the bomb was planted in the front of a fish shop on Muang Samut Road, Chiang Mai. (Photo by Autsadaporn Kamthai)

Police from Chang Puek police station rushed to the scene and the bomb rescue team from the 33rd Border Patrol police headquarters was called to defuse the grenade. Police cordoned off the road to traffic and pedestrians.

The bomb squad removes the M-75 after successfully defusing it. (Photo by Autsadaporn Kamthai)

Had it exploded, the grenade may have caused damage in a 15-metre radius.

It took about 20 minutes before it was defused. The bomb squad suggested that “someone wanted to create an uprising”.

Police are investigating.

Six members of ‘White Face’ gang left red-faced

And red-handed as well

Jiraphat Warasin

Six members of the self-proclaimed “White Face” gang were left red-faced after police arrested them following a tip off. An alert member of the general public informed police that he had overheard six people in Chang Puek Road in Chiang Mai planning to commit a robbery.

The gang members were questioned at Chang Puek police station.

Police officers, under Pol Col Kittisarn Kaewpradub, superintendent of Chang Puek police station, burst open the room in which the six were sitting. A quick inspection revealed 51 stolen items, including television sets, four mobile phones, 10 wrist watches, two cameras, calculators, a wallet, a bag, three dolls, a student identification card, numerous electronic appliances and one ya ba tablet. The gang members admitted that they had stolen all the items.

The gang told police they had formed the “White Face” or “Anarchy” gang with the intention to commit the robberies. Before committing a burglary, they would cover their faces with Guan Im cream and put on red lipstick so that they would not be recognised. They confessed to committing 10 robberies in Chang Puek and other areas.

Panuwat Kawinporn, 21, Sirikunya Cahiwong, 19, Kittipong Songsiri, 19, Manachai Saechua, 22, and two others who cannot be named because they are minors, were charged with theft and other criminal activities. At the time of going to press, two robbery victims had already identified the alleged thieves. It would appear they will have plenty of time to perfect their make-up behind bars.

Traffic police officer seriously injured by teenage driver

Blood alcohol four times the limit

A teenage driver who has been charged with being under the influence of alcohol ploughed into a motorcycle traffic police officer. The policeman, Pol Cpl Pithep Thongjar was rushed to hospital where he was admitted, suffering from a fractured skull and contusions to the brain. The motorcycle patrol officer had been on traffic control duty on Chang Klan Road in Chiang Mai at the time of the accident.

Chiang Mai police detained and then arrested the driver, Suriya Sukyang after he was tested and allegedly found to have a blood alcohol level of .203 mgm percent, more than four times over the legal limit.

Pol Lt Gen Chalor Chuwong, commissioner of Provincial Police Bureau, Region 5, has visited Pol Cpl Pithep at Maharaj Nakhon Chiang Mai Hospital, and offered him financial assistance.

Pithep’s condition was being closely monitored at the time of going to press. A hospital spokesperson said he had suffered a skull fracture and they were watching for signs of a cerebral haemorrhage.

The teenager, Suriya Sukyang faces several charges, including driving under the influence of alcohol and causing grievous bodily harm.

Cultural exchange Chinese film crew finds rude currency exchange

Money taken and no return

Chinese filmmakers in the North to film a documentary on the Songkran festival have had anything but a festive experience - their belongings and 60,000 baht in cash were stolen.

The 13-member crew reported to police at Muang Chiang Mai police station that they had booked in at a hotel in Chiang Mai on April 6 and left to shoot the documentary in Mae Hong Son province. The film crew had been hired by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to film the festival as part of a cultural exchange scheme between Thailand and China.

When they returned to the hotel on the night of April 16 and checked their belongings, they discovered that the wallets of five of the film crew containing official documents and cash valued at 60,000 baht were missing. There was no sign of a break in.

A crime squad enquiry has been undertaken to find the stolen property as soon as possible. Once again this looks like an ‘inside job’.

Petrol station heist nets thief 170,000 baht

Police pumping employees for evidence

A petrol station on Mahidol Road in Chiang Mai has been robbed, with the thieves making off with over 170,000 baht in cash. The daring robbery at the PTT petrol station run by Panya Motor Partnership took place on April 18.

Within minutes of being notified, Pol Capt Sa-nguan Saenkam of Muang District police station, accompanied by detectives, rushed to the scene. However, the thieves, and the money had long since gone.

Sombat Tengwongthana, the owner, showed police how the robbers had gained entry by breaking the glass door to the office, rifled through the drawers and scattered everything around the room. Sombat said 160,490 baht was missing from one drawer and 10,000 baht from another desk drawer.

He told police the petrol station was open from 5 a.m. to midnight daily. After midnight, a security guard patrolled the front of the petrol station. When he went to the station the next morning, Sombat found that the glass had been broken and his accountants’ desks had been rifled.

Pol Capt Sa-nguan said he suspected an ‘inside job’ as the thief or thieves knew where the money was kept. Fifteen employees were questioned and their fingerprints taken for comparison with prints taken at the robbery scene. This should soon show which employees were working there!