HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Kingdom of Thailand celebrates Coronation Day May 5

Chiang Mai to have integrated public transport from July 1

Scorching temperatures send air-conditioning sales sky high

HM King Bhumibol’s plan for reforestation renewed

City fire in Lampang causes 2 million baht damage

Chiang Mai Zoo threatened by forest fire

Labor Ministry wants skilled Thai workers overseas

San Kamphaeng district chief officer tasked to revive PM’s hometown

The conflagrations continue

Thais who harbor aliens being charged

Temperamental pigs and bird flu cause price hikes

“If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise!”

Chiang Mai proposes itself to be the international health and spa hub

Second protest against runway extension in Mae Hia

We are the aviation hub - or will be soon, says Deputy Transport Minister

Long-necked Karen not part of Chiang Mai tourism

Alleged arsonist caught with five frogs and a lighter

Businessman victim of Mafia style ambush and killing

Karen army member killed and another injured

Mobile phone thieves apprehended

Kingdom of Thailand celebrates Coronation Day May 5

May 5 marks the 54th anniversary of the Coronation of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great.

The day is celebrated as a national holiday, and all government offices and commercial banks will be closed.

Each year on May 5, the Kingdom of Thailand commemorates the day when, in 1950, King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, the 9th in the Chakri Dynasty (Rama IX), was crowned.

His Majesty the King was pronounced successor to the throne on June 1946, following the passing of his brother King Ananda Mahidol. After four years of studying in Europe, he returned to Thailand and was crowned during an elaborate and highly intricate ceremony that outdid all previous coronations in Thailand.

On April 28, 1950, a week before his coronation, H.M. King Bhumibol and Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitayakara were married. Following the coronation the King returned to Switzerland to continue studying.

The Coronation Ceremony reinforces the stature of the Kings of Thailand. The first such elaborate ceremony was performed when Pho Khun Phamuang succeeded Pho Khun Bangklangthao as the ruling King of Muang Sukhothai. Phaya Lithai, a former leader in Sukhothai, left a historical record in stone describing the coronation ceremony in Sukhothai at Wat Srikhum.

In the beginning of the Ratanakosin era, the first King in the Chakri Dynasty (King Buddha Yot Fa Chulalokmaharach) took the title of Rama I and moved the capital of Siam from Thonburi to the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River, and constructed Krung Ratanakosin (Bangkok). In the process of building the Royal Palace and Wat Prakaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the first King in the House of Chakri refined the coronation ceremony, establishing important protocol that has lasted to this day.

All Kings to follow not undergoing the coronation ceremony would be unable to assume the term “Phrabat” in front of the King s title of “Somdej Phrachaoyuhua”, and more significantly, the symbol of the nine-tiered umbrella would also not be permissible or officially recognized.

The elaborate coronation ceremony of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great included all the ancient rituals required for assuming the full title and the nine-tiered umbrella. King Bhumibol Adulyadej then bestowed the honor posthumously on His brother King Ananda Mahidol. King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s benevolent act raised King Ananda Mahidol’s regal status from seven to a nine-tiered umbrella.

During the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV), Buddhist monks and Brahmin priests were incorporated into the coronation ceremony to conduct rituals to sanctify the auspicious occasion. Previously the ceremony was arranged and conducted by the Royal Palace staff and members of the Royal Household.

The annual commemoration of the coronation ceremony is currently a three-day affair, starting with a ritual “tham bun” ceremony on May 3 to honor the King’s ancestors. Later on the first day, another ceremony is performed, whereby flags of honor are issued to distinguish various military units.

The following day, Buddhist ceremonies continue with chanting rituals, prayers and Brahman priests announce the auspicious occasion of the next day (May 5).

On May 5, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (Rama IX) conducts a merit-making ceremony, presenting offerings to Buddhist monks, and leads a “Wienthien” ceremony, walking three times around the sacred grounds at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

In the evening the King conducts another sacred ceremony: changing the yellow cloth on the Emerald Buddha, the guardian symbol protecting the Thai people, which was transferred from Thonburi to Wat Phra Kaew by Rama I.

Many rooms in the Royal Palace are opened for public viewing on Coronation Day. Auspicious ceremonies are performed and displays depicting royal achievements are exhibited to reconfirm the King’s stature.

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great is now the world’s longest reigning monarch, 58 years, as the people of Thailand celebrate their beloved father of the nation and his dedication to the development and well- being of his subjects throughout his benevolent reign.

Chiang Mai to have integrated public transport from July 1

Or is it a dream?

Nopniwat Krailerg

The end to Chiang Mai’s public transport woes is in sight with the imminent introduction of 26 buses, the first phase in the plan to remedy the lack of a proper mass transportation system.

Chiang Mai’s red mini-busses will be affected by the policy changes, with the imminent introduction of 26 full size buses.

10 years ago, the city’s yellow buses were phased out and the transport concession was handed over to the Nahkon Lanna Transport Cooperatives, the red minibus monopoly. The only other alternative was tuk-tuks.

With no mass transportation system, up to 90 percent of residents rely on their own cars and motorcycles. In 2002, Chiang Mai was ranked second in the country for car registrations - 887,875 vehicles. As a result, traffic jams are frequent, especially during rush hour, and air pollution is a major cause of concern with the increase in exhaust gas emissions.

The 3 wheel pedicab, a primitive form of transportation in Chiang Mai City, may become a rarity in future.

Several studies into the city’s mass transportation system have been carried out in the past, but they were all blocked. However, local MP’s Yaowapa Shinawatra and Boonsong Teriyapirom have revived a plan to address the problem.

A research team headed by the governor of Chiang Mai has been formed. Delegates from Chiang Mai University’s Information and Technology Office, Chiang Mai Provincial Land Transport Office, Chiang Mai Municipality and Chiang Mai Traffic Office have formed a working committee.

Views from relevant government organizations, local authorities, the minibus union and the general public have been canvassed on action to be taken. The project outline will be submitted to the government for partial financial support.

In the short term, the municipality has obtained financing to buy 26 buses, 24 of which will go into operation in the city sometime between the beginning of July and October. They will cover major points such as the train station, bus station, airport and hotels, and service important tourist sites.

The first phase of the revitalized transportation system will consist of a network of 33 routes covering 470 km, with 13 major routes, seven minor routes and 13 side road routes. Buses will run between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. During rush hours there will be buses every one to five minutes.

It is expected about 65,000 passengers a day will use the bus service in the first year, with the figure reaching 130,000 a day after three years.

The development plan to systematize the existing transport system will stretch over three years. In the first year, red minibuses will cover the middle ring road, covering an area of about 100 sq. km over a six-month trial period.

In the second year, the number of red minibuses on the circuit route will increase, with passengers being able to choose buses as an alternative mode of transport. More routes will be added.

Finally, in the third year, every red minibus would be restricted to the inner zone, with the other buses covering the other routes.

Chaitawat Saowapon, director of the university’s Information and Technology Office and manager of the mass transportation system development study, said that previous research into an underground system showed it to be too expensive, with a 10 billion baht estimated cost.

At present, 2,800 red minibuses ply their trade in Chiang Mai. By the end of the three years, the current transportation concession to the Nahkon Lanna Transport Cooperatives would be ended. The Chiang Mai Provincial Land Transport Office would set out regulations

requiring each minibus owner who wants to continue operating on the ring road along with buses to register with the authorities. Red mini-buses that are more than 15 years old must undergo regular roadworthiness inspections before being put into public service. The 300 or so mini-buses that do not pay tax to the government would not be allowed to go into public service.

“The development project outline for the Chiang Mai mass transportation system will be submitted to Pramaun Rutjanaseri, deputy minister of the interior, for approval in principle,” Chaitawat said.

The main bus routes would include several schools and universities, to lessen traffic jams there. There was also a recommendation that students in uniform would be able to ride free at certain times of the day. It is also possible that the public may get free bus rides in the first three months to publicize and popularize the project.

A public company would be formed to run the mass transportation system, with the government holding 70 percent of the shares, local administration organizations 20 percent and the private sector 10 percent. The public company would be controlled and managed by the government organizations, with professional marketing and using an IT system.

The cost of the initial implementation is estimated at 1 billion baht. It is expected that the earnings from advertisements and fares would be 660 million baht, and government would need to cover the 369 million baht shortfall.

Scorching temperatures send air-conditioning sales sky high

Sizzle to continue for another two weeks

Jiraphat Warasin and Autsadaporn Kamthai

The Meteorological Department predicts the scorching weather will continue for the next week or two due to the closeness of the sun to the region together with a low pressure system covering the North. The temperature will peak at 2 p.m. and probably reach 40 degrees Celsius some days.

Children swim in the city moat to escape the heat.

This year’s average temperature for March was 39.5 degrees Celsius, two degrees higher on average compared to last year, according to Worapoj Kunawiwattanangkul, meteorologist at the Northern Regional Meteorological Center.

Worapoj predicted that the highest temperature in Chiang Mai this year would be between May 15-17 because the sun would then be directly overhead. The highest temperature in the past 8 years (1996-2004) was 40.1 degrees Celsius recorded in 1998.

One electrical appliance store reported the sales of air-conditioners had increased by 16 percent over last year. On April 17 alone, they had sold 100 air conditioners, the highest number ever for a single day.

HM King Bhumibol’s plan for reforestation renewed

Weir to be constructed in the Fang district

The chairman of the Joint Working Committee for the Development of Rural Villages recently met with local people to discuss the construction of a weir at Fang district in Chiang Mai province.

On April 23, Phanlop Suwanmalik presided over the meeting to receive suggestions and ask for cooperation to support the project that was initiated by the King to revive forests that are steadily deteriorating in many regions of the country.

For Chiang Mai province, the committee has studied the community situation and selected the upstream area of Huay Ngu Nai at Ban Huay Ngu Nai, in Tambon Sansai, Fang district as the pilot location. The construction of 80 small dams started on April 6.

Officials expect that more than 500 low budget dams will be constructed using primarily local labor.

This royal project using dams was initiated as an experiment at Huay Hong Krai Development Center in 1984. Since then, both Thai and foreign observers have deemed it successful.

The survey of damaged forests will be accelerated and the cooperation between the government and private sectors strengthened to expand the project to help renew our forests.

City fire in Lampang causes 2 million baht damage

Four wooden houses razed

Four blocks of buildings were consumed by a fire that raged through stores in the heart of Lampang’s Muang district on April 24.

Over 10 fire trucks and rescue volunteers from the Civil Disaster Prevention Foundation were called out at about 1.30 p.m. to fight the fire. At the scene, they found four houses of the two-story wooden construction were burning fiercely.

The fire officers and volunteers spent half an hour to extinguish the flames. Official estimates put the damage bill at 2 million baht.

Police officers from Lampang’s Muang district police station were also called out and heard from witnesses that the fire started at Charnchai Saelue’s house, but he was not at home at the time, and the flames quickly spread to adjacent buildings.

Lampang Governor Amorntat Niratsayakul was also on the scene to offer assistance. Forensic police officers are investigating the cause of the fire.

Chiang Mai Zoo threatened by forest fire

Municipal fire department called in to assist

Saksit Meesubkwang

Firefighters took almost an hour to extinguish a fire that threatened the orangutans, pandas and deer enclosures at Chiang Mai Zoo.

The forest fire broke out northeast of the zoo and five fire trucks (two from the zoo and three from Chiang Mai Municipality) were dispatched to bring the fire under control. Firefighters from the Forest Fire Control Center, which is responsible for the Doi Suthep and Doi Pui areas, were also called out.

A fire near Chiang Mai Zoo threatened the orangutans area, which is situated about 500 meters from the panda bear enclosure.

The fire threatened the orangutans area, which is situated about 500 meters from the panda bear enclosure. The 5 rai area affected by the fire is also about 200 meters from the deer enclosure.

Zoo director Thanapat Pongpamorn said that initially he thought they would be able to control the fire themselves. However, when it had spread to the zoo area by nightfall, he asked the municipality to send its fire trucks as well.

Thanapat said the zoo had previously made a firebreak to stop the forest fires that occur frequently during the dry season. He suspected that the fire reached the zoo because of burning leaves blown across the firebreak and into the area.

He was also concerned that the fire may have forced snakes living in the Doi Suthep area to move down to the zoo and could potentially harm the zoo animals.

Labor Ministry wants skilled Thai workers overseas

Training offered for interested candidates

Jiraphat Warasin

The Chiang Mai Employment Office has endorsed the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry’s policy in attempting to change the image of Thai workers overseas from unskilled to skilled, by promoting registered Thai boxing trainers, trained chefs and traditional Thai masseurs and masseuses.

The ministry reports there is a considerable demand for them in foreign countries. There are 30,000 Thai boxing camps overseas that require Thai trainers. The Thai restaurant business has boomed overseas where Thai cuisine has become a favorite for many westerners. There are 8,000 Thai restaurants overseas, with many needing trained chefs. Thai traditional masseurs and masseuses are in demand in foreign countries due to the popularity of the spa industry.

Chiang Mai Employment Office director Orachorn Rattanamanee said the Middle East has expressed a demand for Thai chefs and traditional masseurs and masseuse. “This shows that entrepreneurs abroad realize the potential and good disposition of Thai workers who are always willing to assist their colleagues,” she said.

The Chiang Mai Provincial Labor Skill Development Center has provided low fee courses to improve the skills of Thai workers before being sent to work abroad. Thais interested in improving their skills are welcome to contact the center.

The Labor and Social Welfare Ministry also publicizes overseas job vacancies on the Labor and Social Welfare Department’s notice board in front of every tambon administration organization office in Chiang Mai.

People who want to work abroad should inform the Chiang Mai Employment Office and pass a skills and qualifications test before leaving.

Thais with employment offers overseas will have to pay for only the passport and visa. However, processing passport and visa applications can take a long time, so many people turn to private employment agencies that can provide them more speedily. This can be risky. Private employment companies may be legally established but sometimes deceive job seekers by pretending to provide more jobs than they have in order to get more money through application fees.

“The Chiang Mai Employment Office advises workers to check with the ministry whether those private companies and the positions they provide are legitimate before applying for a job with them,” said Orachorn.

The Thai government is paying more attention to Thai workers overseas because 355,837 Thais move to work abroad each year and annually earn the nation 57 billion baht.

San Kamphaeng district chief officer tasked to revive PM’s hometown

There used to be more to the PM’s home town than brolly dollies

Nopniwat Krailerg and Saksit Meesubkwang

PM Thaksin Shinawatra has tasked San Kamphaeng district chief officer Surachai Jongrak with the development, prosperity, reputation and tourism growth of the district. The two men met during the PM’s visit to his hometown during the Songkran festival.

PM Thaksin wanted San Kamphaeng district to be revived and prominent as it was, “A land of beautiful women, gorgeous silk and fine-looking handicraft” in the past. Moreover, the PM also asked that the strategy for development should focus on cleaning up the district so that tourists find it comfortable and attractive.

Faced with this gargantuan task, Surachai said that first of all the government and private sectors would have to start working together if they wanted to develop and revive San Kamphaeng district. “Until now, it seems that they all work and live separately. For example, some exporters who have certain markets do not cooperate with the public sector, while OTOP (One Tambon One Product) manufacturers have to find markets by themselves,” he said.

A committee for the San Kamphaeng’s development project will be set up with Yaowapa Wongsawat, Member of Parliament for Chiang Mai, and the PM’s sister as its president.

San Kamphaeng has three important communities - Bor Sang, which is the well known umbrella village; Mae Oon, which has natural beauty tourist sites; and the Naa Talard community (in front of the PM’s house) which in the past used to be very popular for tourists to do shopping.

Between these three communities, Naa Talard is considered to be the first place that needs to be developed, Surachai said. It had seen a decline in popularity because of a lack of attractiveness and facilities. To counteract this, many facilities should be established as a priority.

Recently, the district office temporarily relocated to Wat Mai Rong Wua. Its 8 rai will be used as a parking area for tour buses, public toilets and restaurants, as part of the “Khuang San Kamphaeng” project. In addition, shops with OTOP goods, a tourist center, a San Kamphaeng Museum and the Thaksin Tower dedicated to the PM’s history have also been planned.

The district chief officer said that after the success of the “San Kamphaeng Sarn Silp” fair the “Cultural Road” project, from Poi Luang intersection to San Kamphang district, is planned to be launched shortly.

An opinion poll regarding the site of the district office and the upcoming establishment of the San Kamphaeng government office center, showed that 95 percent of respondents supported the idea that the government office center be constructed at the old tobacco curing factory in Bann Rong Wau Deang, said Surachai.

On April 19 public tenders for its construction were invited and it is expected that building will commence soon. It will be the first district government office center in the country.

The conflagrations continue

Areas in Doi Suthep and Doi Pui National Park flattened

Forest fires have caused extensive damage in the Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park area, with firefighters having to battle two fires that raged simultaneously on April 25.

The first fire started in the Monthatarn Water Fall area and spread rapidly, causing damage to 10 rai of forest land. 30 firefighters from the Forestry Department firefighting unit took about an hour to quell it.

Another fire broke out in the nearby Wang Bua Barn Water Fall area, causing damage to 20 rai of land. This took 100 fighters that were called out and battled for more than an hour to bring it under control. The fire was close to the Wang Bua Barn, so the fighters had to walk many kilometers to reach it.

It is not known whether the fires started spontaneously or whether villagers started them to catch forest animals. An investigation into the cause is underway.

The Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park is a conservation area that abounds in various kinds of flora and fauna. The hot dry air may have caused spontaneous combustion, setting fire to the abundance of dried leaves and grass that had accumulated.

A reddish sky and the red of the flames on the mountain could be clearly seen from a distance away from the park area.

Thais who harbor aliens being charged

False ID racket uncovered implicating headmen and government officials

Saksit Meesubkwang

Thai citizens who accommodate illegal alien workers should face stiffer punishment. This was the recommendation from Pol Lt Col Charnwut Watcharapuk, commissioner of the Bangkok Immigration Bureau, and Pol Maj Gen Pornphat Suyanunt, deputy commissioner, at a press conference held this week.

Recently arrested illegal immigrants are paraded before the press, as immigration police commissioner, Pol Lt Gen Charnwut Watcharapuk looks on at the Chiang Mai Immigration Police Office.

It was reported that 182 alien laborers had been arrested in the San Sai, Saraphee and Muang districts and seven Thai citizens had been arrested for illegally accommodating the alien workers.

Pol Lt Col Charnwut said that immigration officers have been pursuing alien laborers, counterfeit passports, trafficking in women and children, and foreign criminals in Tak, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces.

The office has also launched an investigation into counterfeit hill tribe ID cards and work permits for alien laborers. It found that some community leaders and village headmen were in cahoots with government officials in producing the counterfeit cards which they sold for between 800-2000 baht each.

The Immigration Office traced the culprits, he said. “We will clamp down on people who illegally accommodate alien laborers,” Pol Lt Col Charnwut added. “The punishment for Thais who accommodate them should also be made more severe because they are accomplices of these illegal alien workers,” he said.

Temperamental pigs and bird flu cause price hikes

Overcharging vendors to incur official wrath

Jiraphat Warasin

The price of eggs and pork has doubled, hitting consumers’ pockets hard.

Pork has shot up from 65 baht to 110 baht a kilogram, while the price of an egg has risen from 1.5 baht to 2.5 or 3 baht.

Wipada Trisat, chief of Chiang Mai provincial commercial office, explained that prices charged are subject to the laws of supply and demand. Many chickens were killed following the outbreak of bird flu and people turned to pork instead. However, in the hot season, pigs are temperamental and spend most of their time sleeping instead of eating, which lessens their growth and weight. Consequently the supply of pork this season is not enough to meet demand, which has triggered the rise in the price of pork.

Wipada added that the Chiang Mai provincial commercial office has asked vendors to clearly indicate the prices on vegetables and meat and they would check to see if they were keeping to those prices. Any vendors who overcharged faced possible action.

He said that not only had the bird flu affected the price of eggs, but the increased price of chicken feed pushed up the price as well.

He predicted the pork and eggs prices should be back to normal in July because the new chicken colonies raised on farms would be distributed, matching consumer demand. He said that entrepreneurs should not exploit consumers. If prices do not fall, the provincial committee responsible for goods and service would call for profiteering entrepreneurs to be officially admonished, Wipada added. And we wish him all the luck in the world!

“If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise!”

Nun nabbed for keeping habit in naughty house

Nopniwat Krailerg

Warrants of arrest are being prepared for the three Mae Hia forest invaders who destroyed about 550 rai of forest land. Thanawat Yodjai, chairman of the Tambon Mae Hia Tambon Administration Organization (TAO), said people have invaded the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in Ban Mae Hia to build houses and plant fruit crops. 176 invaders were found trespassing in the 500 rai forest and recently another seven were discovered trespassing in another of 50 rai area.

Pol Col Prasert Chantrapiphat said he had enough evidence to arrest three people on charges of invasion and deforestation in a national park. They are a former head of the 4th National Park Protection Team in Mae Hia, a teacher from the electricity department of a technical college in Chiang Mai and a nun. They had destroyed forests to build permanent houses in the area.

It was noticeable that the arrest warrants of “the big capitalists” had not yet been effected, said Pol Col Prasert.

Mae Hia residents were dissatisfied with the slow action of the government service, including the many sub-committees appointed by the local provincial organizations, TAO and Muang District Office. They were “frustrated with the irrelevancy of information that the Chiang Mai Forestry office and the National Park possesses” and the long time it took to verify it.

It was threatened that if there were no progress by government agencies on the issue by May 6, the residents would break into and burn down the houses and plant trees in the area.

However, the provincial committee has assigned the Mae Hia TAO to check all 183 invaders and is seeing whether the people have registered themselves as residents, and how they used their land.

The group of 176 invaders who trespassed on the forest in 1998 were subsequently allowed to occupy the land according to a cabinet resolution of May 11, 1998.

However, 40 of them exchanged and traded their land. The government therefore confiscated their land because their actions violated regulations.

Chiang Mai proposes itself to be the international health and spa hub

Thai Lanna Spa Association shows its intentions

Saksit Meesubkwang

The deputy governor of Chiang Mai, Kwanchai Wongnitikorn, presided over the opening ceremony of Thailand’s spa business to worldwide competition at Chiang Mai University’s Convention Center during the World Congress of Holistic Medicine.

Spa operators from several countries were present with more than 20 spas displaying their wares during the event.

The attempts to build up a spa network in the province matched the provincial plans to push Chiang Mai as the health and spa hub in the near future, said the deputy governor.

Prof. Dr. Kanika Pornpatjai, president of the Chiang Mai Health Business Association, noted that this business could attract many tourists from neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and India to receive spa services.

The president of Thai Lanna Spa Association, Chitra Klanprayoon, invited all spa operators in Chiang Mai to join so they could find appropriate methods to upgrade the standard of their own spa businesses. Examination of facilities would be carried out by the provincial public health office.

The association focused on the image of spa businesses in the province and divorced themselves from prohibited illegal businesses such as massage and the flesh trade. The spa operators should strictly follow the gazetted opening and closing times. Furthermore, all employees of a spa center should pass the training programs and receive certification from the provincial public health office.

Any spa entrepreneurs founded in violation of the law would be given warnings and their membership of the association could be terminated. Any persons violating the specified rules would face immediate punishment and withdrawal of their certificates.

Second protest against runway extension in Mae Hia

Residents rising up against government’s unilateral edicts

Saksit Meesubkwang

The Tambon Mae Hia community is against a plan to expand Chiang Mai International Airport, citing noise and air pollution.

Thanawat Yodjai, chairman of Mae Hia Tambon Administration Organization (TAO), invited people who believed they would be affected by the runway expansion to voice their opinions on the project with the Southeast Asia Technology Co which had conducted a feasibility study. A thousand residents and business owners from Tambon Mae Hia and Tambon Suthep attended the April 25 meeting at the TAO offices.

The personnel from Southeast Asia Technology handed out questionnaires and encouraged comments. The overwhelming sentiment was against the runway extension of Chiang Mai International Airport, as it is located near residential areas that would be affected by noise and air pollution.

This was the second time in the past few months that the villagers expressed concern over the Airports of Thailand’s expansion plan.

One of the residents of Moo 4, Tambon Mae Hia, who preferred not to be named, said that if the government really aims at contributing to the development of the region, the viewpoints of the public should be taken into account before it decides on implementing any project.

Every member of the Mae Hia community preferred not to see history repeat itself as in the case of the four month long protest led by thousands of Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) utility workers and union members who were against the privatisation of EGAT.

According to the Thai constitution, the power utility workers were correct in their actions, as they were able to collect more than five thousand signatures of those against the sell-off of EGAT. However, the government still continued, blind to their demonstrations. “Their only excuse is that it is the government’s policy, where citizens have to follow unconditionally,” he said.

According to Thanawat, Mae Hia TAO is regarded as the proprietor of the area in question. It is therefore bound to be held responsible to the people who would be affected by the runway expansion plan. Increasing the capacity of Chiang Mai International Airport as a commercial airport should be seen against possible effects on the public.

“I have been elected by the people. Therefore I’m surely on the same side as them. Two public reviews have been carried out and the conclusion is the same - opposition to the expansion of the runway. Therefore, both the government and the company that conducted the review should consider this thoroughly,” he said.

We are the aviation hub - or will be soon, says Deputy Transport Minister

Plans afoot for infrastructure

Saksit Meesubkwang

Deputy Transport Minister Vichet Kasemthongsri recently presided over a meeting to propose Chiang Mai province as the center of aviation. The meeting held at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel was attended by the director-general of the Civil Aviation Department, Chiang Mai governor Suwat Tantipat and 20 representatives from organizations concerned.

The attempt to develop the province as a regional aviation hub has seen significant progress through plans to expand the city’s airport buildings, runways, parking areas, petrol station systems, inventory stores, and lounge areas.

In addition, many airlines offer new flight routes as well as promote additional services for international flights, such as Chiang Mai-Rangoon four times weekly, Chiang Mai-Bangkok-Narita in Japan seven times weekly, Bangkok-Hong Kong-Taipei three times weekly, Chiang Mai-Bangkok-Frankfurt five times weekly, Chiang Mai-Chittagong three times weekly and Chiang Mai-Kunming twice weekly.

The Deputy Transport Minister said all parties wanted Chiang Mai to become the aviation hub but not enough had been done to achieve this. Chiang Mai needed more flights, a larger number of passengers and sufficient facilities for tourists.

However, the abundance of accommodation and tourist attractions all year round and the polite manner of Thai citizens would impress tourists visiting Thailand, said the Deputy Transport Minister, bringing with them an increased income for all business sectors.

Deputy Transport Minister Vichet suggested that every sector should share responsibility and revise their plans for further operations. Three weeks from now, his secretary is planning to proudly announce Chiang Mai as the aviation hub.

Any problems with the plan should be raised immediately so that solutions could be found together, to conform with the request of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Long-necked Karen not part of Chiang Mai tourism

TAT boss denies local promotion

Nopniwat Krailerg

A local Thai Chiang Mai newspaper claims that a long-necked Karen show will be held in the city’s Mae Ai district and that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) put up posters in Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport inviting tourists to visit “Pandas, as well as long-necked Karen, in Chiang Mai”.

This has caused some necks to get hot under the collar as this contravenes immigration laws, as the Karen are here in Thailand as refugees. The Karen are a minority who fled the fighting between Myanmar government troops and minority groups inside Myanmar and are compelled to remain in the refugee camp provided by Thai authorities in Mae Hong Son border province.

Meanwhile, to put an official ring to it, Pol Lt Gen Chanwut Watcharapuk, commissioner of the Immigration Bureau, said the immigration police would arrest any long-necked Karen who moved out of their confined areas in Mae Hong Son province to earn a living in Mae Ai district at Tambon Thaton.

Commenting on the Immigration Bureau’s comment, the TAT director said it was the immigration police duty to arrest any long-necked Karen who contravened the law. Their arrest would not affect the TAT because the long-necked Karen were not part of Chiang Mai’s tourism promotions.

The director of TAT’s Northern Office, Region 1, denied promoting a long-necked Karen show in Chiang Mai.

Chalermsak Suranan from the TAT said they did not have a policy of intervening in the affairs of minorities, including long-necked Karen, and denied putting up posters encouraging a visit to any Karen shows.

“I believe only posters promoting the pandas were put up there,” he said. He suspected that the private sector had printed and displayed the posters advertising long-necked Karen. He even doubted that the posters existed at all, as the local press claimed.

The number of visitors to long-necked Karen villages has dropped by 80 percent, with a related loss of income of 1 billion baht last year, added Pol Lt Gen Chanwut. Currently, there are 300 long-necked Karen, of whom 150 are female, living in Ban Huai Pu Gang and Ban Huai Sue Tao in Tambon Pha Bong and Ban Nai Soi in Tambon Pangmoo of Mae Hong Son’s Muang district.

Alleged arsonist caught with five frogs and a lighter

Causes 2.25 mio baht damage

Saksit Meesubkwang

A 17 year old who allegedly started a forest fire to panic animals into running into traps has been arrested, although his two accomplices managed to evade capture by fire prevention officers.

Anant Sorn-ngai, head of Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park Office, said a fire prevention patrol team on duty on April 21 spotted three men lighting a fire along the road behind the Phu Ping Palace. The fire blazed over 15 rai and caused losses of about 2.25 million baht.

The patrol team managed to catch one of the arsonists. He is a resident in Tambon Baan Pong in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong district but cannot be named because he is a minor. The youth allegedly confessed that he and his friends often looked in Hang Dong district for forest crops and animals to sell, but it had become increasingly difficult to find these as more and more people were doing the same. They decided to target the Phu Ping Palace area as it abounds with wild animals and not many people dared to trespass in the area.

He was sent to Phu Ping police station for questioning and faces criminal charges. He also said the other two wanted men lived in his village in Hang Dong.

Pol Capt Wittaya Winyayong of Phu Ping police station said the suspect would be charged with the destruction of forest land and with hunting and killing protected wild animals. The accused is reported to be the first arsonist arrested. Evidence includes five forest frogs and a cigarette lighter. If found guilty by the courts, he faces a heavy sentence due to the state’s concern about the forest fire crisis in Chiang Mai. Police are still searching for the other two accused men.

Businessman victim of Mafia style ambush and killing

Business jealousy presumed to be the reason

Nopniwat Krailerg and Saksit Meesubkwang

A former policeman, who became a wealthy businessman, has been shot dead, possibly because of conflicts with rival businessmen. Somporn Navig, a former police sergeant major, whose house was valued at millions of baht and who owned several luxury cars, was found dead in his delivery van at Ratchapuek Housing Estate in San Kamphaeng district’s Tambon San Klang.

One of the bullet holes in the van, perhaps the fatal shot, is clearly visible.

The investigating police team of Pol Maj Athipong Thongdang of San Kam Phaeng police station accompanied by Surachai Chongrak, San Kam Phaeng District Officer, and Pol Col Prayarch Boonsri, went to the scene and found the van with the engine still running.

A five meter long wooden log was across the road, obstructing the van. When they opened the door on the driver’s side, Somporn’s body slumped out.

He had been shot with an 11 mm pistol, and his cousin, Chatchai Worabutra, who had accompanied him, was seriously injured with a gunshot to his hand. He was rushed to Chiang Mai Ram 2 Hospital.

Cash to the value of 120,000 baht, a gold necklace and bracelet and important documents were left in the van, ruling out robbery as a motive.

Somporn had worked at Mae Ping police station but resigned 10 years ago and received a concession from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station to open a grocery store, “Yim Prasert”.

On the night he was killed, he had been driving home with his cousin after closing his grocery business. Chatchai told investigators Somporn asked his cousin to get out of the van to remove the obstruction. As he did so, the hidden gunmen opened fire, continuing until they were sure that Somporn had been killed.

Although Chatchai was injured, he waited until the gunmen sped off on a motorcycle before asking villagers to call the police, he said.

The police suspect the motive for the murder may be business related because Somporn had received a 20 year concession to continue his grocery store at Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station, while other concessionaires have to renew their concessions every three years.

Karen army member killed and another injured

Thai-Burma border incident has police on alert

Saksit Meesubkwang

A bloody attack at Mae Ngao village in the Kun Yuam district of Mae Hong Son, which included rocket-propelled grenades, has left one dead and another injured.

An outside wall was marked with over 200 bullet holes believed to be fired from M-79 firearms. An unexploded rocket-propelled grenade was found inside the house.

The person killed was identified as 45-year-old Saraere, and the injured man as 50-year-old Patu. Both are reported to be Burmese and members of the Kaya Karen army who live along the Thai-Burma border.

The body was removed by his kinsfolk according to religious custom. Patu was taken to Kun Yuam Hospital for medical treatment.

Villagers said that about 20 young men were seen hanging around the village in the early evening of April 20. However, nobody thought anything of it because it was assumed the strangers were simply visiting relatives. At about 10.30 p.m., the sound of continuous gunfire was heard coming from one of the houses.

It is thought the attack may be the result of a business disagreement. The case has been reported to the station commander of the Mae Hong Son police station.

It was believed relations between the Thai and Burmese governments would not be affected by the incident. However, as it took place in the Kun Yuam district which is close to the border, closer cooperation between the district office, police, soldiers and Frontier Land Security volunteers would be required.

Mobile phone thieves apprehended

The Sky Eagle has landed

Two robbers who plundered a mobile phone shop in downtown Chiang Rai have been apprehended after being tracked down with the help of the police spotters in the sky.

The two, brandishing a firearm, held up staff at the OK Mobile Phone Center on Phaholyothin Road. Thanej Thongchompoo, the 18 year old a staff member, told police the two robbers appeared to be drunk. One smashed the glass showcase and stole a number of mobile phones in it before they fled, breaking the glass front door on the way out. They made their getaway on a black motorcycle, and he was also able to give police an accurate description of the clothes they were wearing.

Police set up road blocks and the police Sky Eagle helicopter team was also called in. 30 minutes later, the two suspects on a motorcycle, were seen turning into a side road near the Mae Korn Intersection, about two kilometers away.

Police officers apprehended 27 year old Sompong Putthawong, (nicknamed “Mac”), as he was ducking into bushes in an attempt to escape.

Thanej, from the phone shop, identified the suspect who was then taken into custody for questioning at Muang Chiang Rai police station.

The second suspect, who was later arrested in Parn district, is a 16 year old minor, so his identity has been withheld.

Police learned that after the two had been drinking, Sompong persuaded the youth to accompany him into town on his motorcycle. They stopped in front of the mobile phone shop and Sompong said he would go inside to collect a phone that had been brought in for repairs.

When he saw there was only one staff member on duty, he broke the glass showcase and snatched the mobile phones. He then called his accomplice to help stash the phones into a plastic bag before they made their getaway. They admitted that they had planned to sell the stolen phones and keep some for themselves.

Police took them back to the scene to reconstruct the crime, where they pointed out where they had dropped their weapon. They also helped retrieve nine mobile phones.

The two suspects were charged with possession of a firearm, threatening others with a firearm, carrying a firearm in a public place without a licence, malicious damage to property, and theft.

They will now have plenty of time to ring up their friends and ask for food parcels to be brought in!