Vol. III No. 27 - Saturday July 3 - July 9 2004
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NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

A most happy birthday to HRH Princess Chulabhorn

High speed chase as drunk tries to outrun cops

Cabinet meeting discusses our air and transportation

Chiang Mai people sing the anti-drug tune

New PAO president says he is ready to hear residents’ problems

Upper Northern provinces want to be more competitive regional centers

Workshop on Communicating for Advocacy

Hot bids for cool numbers raise millions

Bio-diesel for municipal buses

Eco-friendly petrol station opens in city

Bangkok Subway to open early; on July 3

How to build a better mousetrap

New high-rises going up get thumbs down

30 mio speed tablets smuggled into Thailand

Mysterious death of drug dealer

Gold shops nationwide attract police attention

Faith-based organizations gear up for AIDS conference

Two ya ba tablets turn into almost 2,000

A most happy birthday to HRH Princess Chulabhorn

Born on July 4, 1957, Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn is the youngest child of Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit of Thailand.

HRH Princess Chulabhorn has two daughters, Their Royal Highnesses Princess Siribhachudhabhorn and Princess Adityadornkitikhun.

Her Royal Highness graduated from the Faculty of Science and Arts at Kasetsart University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Organic Chemistry, First Class Honors, in 1979. Her Royal Highness completed her doctorate work in organic chemistry in 1985, and received her Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Mahidol University in July of the same year, and has a supreme record of academic achievement.

She undertook postdoctoral studies in Germany in 1987 and has since been a visiting professor at universities in Japan, Germany, and the United States of America. She holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from no fewer than nine universities around the world. In 1986, she was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in London and was awarded the Einstein Gold Medal of UNESCO.

Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn is chairperson of the Working Group on the Chemistry of Natural Products collaborative program between the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science and the National Research Council of Thailand.

HRH Princess Chulabhorn has received international recognition for her scientific accomplishments, in her appointment to various United Nations posts, namely special advisor to the United Nations Environment Program and member of the Special High-Level Council for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction of the United Nations.

As a result of her experience as a scientist Princess Chulabhorn became aware of the difficulties Thai researchers have in obtaining the necessary funding for their research. In 1987, she established the Chulabhorn Research Institute to provide a new fundraising agency. This institute now acts as a focal point for the exchange of intellectual and other resources in Thailand for the purpose of solving urgent problems confronting the country in areas of health, environment, and agriculture.

As president of the Chulabhorn Research Institute, the Princess currently directs five special research projects; the AIDS program, a program on restoration and integrated development of the flood-affected areas in Southern Thailand, seawater irrigation for cultivation of economic marine species and preservation of mangrove, the rabies eradication program and a special project for accelerated immunization in five southern provinces in Thailand. Through these programs the Princess plays an auspicious role in improving the environment and living standard of the villagers in a number of Thai provinces.


High speed chase as drunk tries to outrun cops

Even VW’s have their limitations

Nopniwat Krailerg

In a high-speed chase reminiscent of an American movie, police chased a drunken driver who had crashed into two cars then tried to shake off his uniformed pursuers.

At 1.30 a.m. on June 27, police were informed that the obviously inebriated driver of a Volkswagen had crashed into two cars parked in front of a food outlet near Wat Saen Fang on Chang Moi Tad Mai Road in Chiang Mai. He made his escape along Ratchawong Road heading towards Muang Mai market.

Volkswagen driver Thanakitch Pitchawong may have tried to convince police he was serfectly pober, but his crunched VW, and the damage he left in his wake, proved otherwise.

The police center contacted patrol cars to set up a road block to stop the driver who was by this stage spotted driving across the Wat Papaeng intersection.

The patrol police tried to intercept the Volkswagen, but the driver accelerated through the red light traffic at the intersection. While trying to shake off the police car at the Assadathorn intersection, the driver veered across a footpath and hit a fence at a second hand car yard, where it was finally brought to a halt.

The police arrested the driver, identified as 35 year old Thanakitch Pitchawong.

Pol Lt Col Tharayos Plaekthongdee, the police inspector of Changpuak police station, ascertained that Thanakitch had dinner and drinks earlier that evening at the Riverside Restaurant before getting into his car to drive home.

He was charged with reckless driving, causing damage to the other cars and private property and with being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle.


Cabinet meeting discusses our air and transportation

Chiang Mai’s air pollution worse than Bangkok

Nopniwat Krailerg

Pollution in Chiang Mai has worsened, to now have pollution levels five times that of Bangkok.

This situation was highlighted at the mobile Cabinet meeting which took place in Lamphun on June 29. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed great concern at the air pollution problem in Chiang Mai city, after the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) tabled a report on dust and air pollution in this northern capital.

The Federation of Northern Farmers and People’s Organization carried a coffin representing the murdered environmental activist Chaoroen.

Chiang Mai city has the highest measured dust density in the country at 291 microns per cubic meter, according to the report. By comparison, in Bangkok the level is 50 microns per cubic meter.

Outdoor burning of agricultural products is blamed on the critical air quality. Chiang Mai atmosphere contains this high level due to the bowl shaped topography of the region.

PM Thaksin said cooperation from the public is needed to solve the problem. He added that any construction development project planned for the city must first engage in an environmental impact assessment, though this is obviously closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

After the Cabinet meeting, Dr Chakrapob Penkae, the spokesman of the Office of the Prime Minister, and his deputy Torpong Chaiyasarn, gave a press briefing. He said Cabinet had discussed the possible development of a mass transportation system linking the three northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Chiang Rai. It has asked the NESDB to urgently study existing proposals for this development plan as well as look at other options.

Previously, Chiang Mai conducted a feasibility study with the Chiang Mai Provincial Administration Organization (PAO) to develop the city’s mass transportation system at a cost of over 6 billion baht. The city hoped it would help solve traffic congestion and promote tourism and trade links in the Upper North.

The budget has been approved in principle by the three provinces. Chiang Mai would contribute 1.8 billion baht, Lamphun 1.2 billion baht, and Chiang Rai 2.1 billion baht.

The mobile cabinet meeting did not pass without comment from the people, with various groups showing PM Thaksin that the country has many grievances they wish to air.

The Karaoke operators asked for flexibility in the copyright of music and the always vocal Federation of Northern Farmers and People’s Organization demonstrated against the inactivity in bringing the influential people behind the murder of environmental activist Chaoroen Wat-aksorn to justice. With the local groups often feeling that they have to fight for ‘justice’, they were carrying a coffin to represent the martyr who had protested against the influential people at Bornok power plant in Prachuab Khirikhan province.

A second coffin was also paraded to draw attention to the residents in the Mae Moh district at risk from environmental pollution from the Mae Moh lignite-fired power plant and still awaiting relocation.

This group was also calling for financial assistance for the farmers to allow them to continue with sustainable farming locally.

The last group to air their views were workers from the electricity and water supply agencies in the north, continuing in their fight against the proposed privatization of their industries.


Chiang Mai people sing the anti-drug tune

And pick up money too

Staff reporters
Photos by Saksit Meesubkwang

10,000 baht in prizes went to the winners of a singing contest to increase public awareness of the fight against drugs.

Chiang Mai Municipality held a range of activities at Thapae Gate grounds to mark World Anti-Drugs Day. One of the events was the choral contest, under the overall theme "To be Number One", with cash prizes put up by the municipality.

The appreciative audience listening in.

The winners were an ensemble from the Kawila district area. They received 5,000 baht and a shield of honor. First runner-up was the team from Srivichai district, while the second runner-up was the team from Nakhonping district.

The activities were aimed to encourage people in the four municipal districts of Nakhonping, Kawila, Srivichai and Mengrai to unite in fighting the drug problem and as a response to the "People Power to get rid of Drugs" campaign.


New PAO president says he is ready to hear residents’ problems

Will increase lamyai prices and decrease flooding - he’ll be busy

Saksit Meesubkwang

Thawatwong na Chiangmai has been officially announced as the new president of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administration Organization (PAO).

The election commission made the announcement on June 29 after months of doubts about the transparency of the election that took place on March 14.

The commission led by its chairman Kitti Prommarat congratulated Thawatwong in front of 500 provincial council members, kamnan and village headmen and the public.

Thawatwong (center) among the well-wishers.

Kitti announced that the Thailand election commission president Pol Maj Gen Wassana Permlarbalso recognized the new president Thawatwong as having won unanimously with a landslide victory.

Thawatwong said he felt happy after the last few months of reviews to finally receive official recognition. At the beginning, he said, he was not happy when the opposition claimed the election was not transparent and submitted letters of complaint to the commission calling for a recount of the ballot papers.

"I will do my best in the changing world, and as I am trusted by the Chiang Mai people, anyone with any problems should contact me directly," he said, adding that he would help tackle the problem of low lamyai prices. He would also ensure flooding prevention and relief operation measures be stepped up.

He announced his three vice-presidents who will be officially appointed on July 7. They are Praphan Buranapakorn, Udom Witthayasakdanont and Wallop Saetieo.


Upper Northern provinces want to be more competitive regional centers

Plenty of desires, but where are the plans?

Nopniwat Krailerg and editorial staff

Lanna groups from eight provinces in the Upper North have asked their governors to pass on development strategy proposals to the Ministry of the Interior.

Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat, on behalf of the groups from Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Phayao, Phrae and Nan provinces, said the plans were submitted via video conferencing to the Minister of the Interior, Bhokin Pholakul in Bangkok.

The main proposals include an "aggressive strategy" aimed at creating a new economic center that would be linked with countries located along the Mekong River in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region and South Asia. This region would be promoted as the gateway for tourism and trade.

Other plans concerned a "value-added economy", tourism, handicrafts, and agriculture as well as a "sustainable development strategy" that could also support the culture, environment and natural resources of the Lanna region.

These proposals also suggest the establishment of organizations for a "dynamic and integrated drive" for the eight provinces. This would lead to them enjoying more security and stability.

In this way, human resources could be developed to make the region able to compete with other countries for the world market in the future.

These are all very noble concepts, but there is still a lack of publicized proposals that we can get behind. Rhetoric and endless meetings do not accomplish much per se. Concrete plans do.


Workshop on Communicating for Advocacy

To provide a forum for smaller groups

Luc Masschelein

From July 5-7 there will be a workshop based on community work, to be held at the Holiday Garden Hotel and Resort in Huay Kaew Road. The Communicating for Advocacy project began in 2002 and is managed by Healthlink UK and key partners Health Action Information Network (HAIN, Philippines), Cambodia Health Education Media Services (CHEMS) and Social Assistance and Rehabilitation of the Physically Vulnerable (SARPV, Bangladesh).

The goal of the project is to develop the capacity of community groups so that they are better able to influence policy and practice in their regions and countries. In particular, the project aims to develop capacity for information exchange and skills transfer by health and development agencies.

At present, poor and marginalized groups in Asia have little voice, and there is often little recognition of rights. This project aims to provide opportunities for people to express, analyze, coordinate and influence decisions on the policies that affect their lives. The diverse experience and knowledge of many community groups and individuals is often lost with little or no exchange of ideas and learning from good practice - or even bad! Central to this is the belief that people have the right to achieve an adequate standard of living, health and well being, and the right of access to information.

The aim of the workshop is to exchange experiences in this field of work between organizations, which work with community groups, and to develop needed skills towards "Communicating for Advocacy".

More information can be obtained from Luc Masschelein, Director FDC Thailand or by email from lucmarijkechiangmai @hotmail.com


Hot bids for cool numbers raise millions

Was there 1 4 U?

Nopniwat Krailerg

The "coolest" car number plate in Chiang Mai brought a whopping 1.8 million baht at auction last week.

Thanasorn Rattanafuwong, 45, the owner of O Court Apartments, made the highest bid at the auction for the number car plate "Kor Yor 9999". The Oriental Hotel proffered the winning bid of 1.5 million baht for "Kor Yor 8888" which will be attached to its VIP guest limousine.

Other highly-desired number plates also fetched impressive amounts. "Kor Yor 1111" was auctioned for 1.2 million baht, "Kor Yor 2222" for 820,000 baht, "Kor Yor 3333" for 610,000 baht, "Kor Yor 4444" for 560,000 baht, "Kor Yor 5555" for 730,000 baht, "Kor Yor 6666" for 300,000 baht and "Kor Yor 7777" for 605,000 baht.

Piyapunt Champasut (left), director-general of the Land Transportation Department, and Autsathai Rattanadilok Na Phuket present the "coolest plate" to Thanasorn Rattanafuwong (center).

Thanasorn said she had been invited to the auction by the Chiang Mai Provincial Transportation Office. "I prepared for the auction for over a month and brought 2 million baht with me to buy the coolest plate."

Thanasorn Rattanafuwong celebrates her winning bid for the ‘coolest’ number plate, "Kor Yor 9999".

Piyapunt Champasut, director-general of the Land Transportation Department, told Chiangmai Mail that he was satisfied with the auction price for the "Kor Yor 9999" number plate, although it was lower than that that paid in Rayong province for a similar eye-catching number. Chiang Mai residents will have another chance to bid for "cool" numbers when the cycle of initials on number plates begins again in about 18 months’ time.

Autsathai Rattanadilok Na Phuket said that the number of people who attended the auction surpassed his expectations and the income generated would be given to the Road Safety Fund. The department also raised 1.647 million baht in registration fees from 1,180 people who signed up for the auction at the Chiang Mai Provincial Transportation Office.


Bio-diesel for municipal buses

French fry fuel to beat pollution problems

Nopniwat Krailerg and staff writers

Construction on a distillation factory for bio-diesel fuel, to be used in buses and garbage trucks, is to begin this month, while mobile pollution monitors will be stationed at various points in the city next year.

Chiang Mai Municipality plans to produce the bio-diesel fuel by recycling used oil it will buy from major fast food franchises and the vendors who sell fried chicken, pork and Chinese croissants in municipal areas. It expects to be able to buy 2,000 liters of used oil each day.

Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn said that due to the deteriorating air quality in the city, the municipality has cooperated with Chiang Mai University’s Energy Management and Conservation Center (EMAC), led by its director Assoc Prof Prasert Rergkriangkrai, in taking up the bio-diesel fuel.

"It will initially be used to run 26 municipality buses and the garbage trucks as a pilot project from October. EMAC will design a fuel-distillation factory which is expected to be located at Ban Den. The factory will not emit any pollution. Its construction will start this month and take about four months to complete," the mayor said.

He admitted that even though bio-diesel fuel is two baht more expensive than ordinary diesel, residents will have a better standard of life as bio-diesel generates less sulphur and carbon monoxide and helps keep the environment clean.

"The municipality also plans to install pollution monitors at five spots where many vehicles pass - Hua Lin corner, Ku Hueng corner, Thapae intersection, in front of Monfort College (primary level) and on Charoenprathet Road," Boonlert said.

The comparison between the acceptable and actual pollution levels will be shown on the monitor. If the actual level is higher than the acceptable level, a red sign will be displayed. Yellow will indicate dangerous levels, while green will mean safe levels. This will allow residents to be aware of the daily pollution situation.

The municipality is awaiting Cabinet approval and financing of 40 million baht for the pollution monitors. Boonlert said he expects the monitors to be installed early next year.

The bio-diesel concept is not new, with Rudolph Diesel’s first engine running on peanut oil, the original bio-diesel. Diesel engines do not need to be modified to run it either and bio-diesel can also be made from any fat or vegetable oil - even used cooking oils as proposed for Chiang Mai, though the usual source overseas is from soybeans. Environmental benefits are reported as impressive, with 100 percent bio-diesel eliminating sulfur emissions and cutting particulate matter and some other pollutants by about 50 percent.

However, there are also downsides, with the low sulfur content adding to the wear factors in diesel engines, though this can be overcome by the use of special oils and additives but at more expense. Bio-diesel also increases emissions of one smog-producing pollutant, nitrogen oxide, or NOx. Although technical solutions can partially overcome this problem, such as adjusting engine timing, environmentalists are yet to fully embrace bio-diesel.

Bio-diesel has also not done as well in the government fuel sources, as was hoped. The US government’s 1992 Energy Policy Act was amended in 1998 to give credit for bio-diesel use and encouraged the federal and state governments to run their vehicles on alternative fuels. Sales of bio-diesel multiplied 30 fold since 1999 to 15 million gallons (56 million litres), but the federal government requires only that the fleets run on a mix of 20 percent bio-diesel, 80 percent petroleum diesel; the agencies seldom buy more than the 20 percent mix.


Eco-friendly petrol station opens in city

PM mans the pumps

Nopniwat Krailerg

Bio-Diesel B2 was launched as a pilot project in Chiang Mai on June 28, by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accompanied by Dr Prommin Lertsuridech, Minister of Energy. Bio-Diesel is being put forward as an alternative source of fuel to help the country save energy.

PM Thaksin who was seen manning the pumps at Chiang Mai’s new Bio-Diesel refueling station, on Mahidol Road. It is priced between 0.3-0.5 baht a liter. A Bio-Diesel plant is also planned to be built in the San Kamphaeng district.

The new fuel station was introduced to Chiang Mai residents by the Department of Alternative Energy Development the of Ministry of Energy, in cooperation with the Naval Dockyard.

One of the research projects is to use Bio-Diesel in song taews, or red mini buses, in Chiang Mai. Used vegetable oil from fast food outlets and cottage industries frying crispy pork skins in Chiang Mai and nearby areas are to be used as the main source of oil to generate 2,000 liters of Bio-Diesel a day. 1,300 mini buses will be participating in the campaign, using B2 Bio-Diesel, which is being distributed by Bang Chak Petroleum and PTT.

The Ministry of Energy wants to set the price of Bio-Diesel lower than straight diesel fuel. Chiang Mai uses 695,000 liters of diesel fuel a day. It is postulated that millions of baht per year may eventually be saved by changing to Bio-Diesel. It is also believed it will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air by 400 tons a year.

Following Chiang Mai, Bio-Diesel will be introduced to other provinces like Chonburi, Phuket, and Surat Thani and be used in buses of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority.


Bangkok Subway to open early; on July 3

TAT Bangkok

Bangkok’s newest mass transit system, the subway, is to open on July 3, one month ahead of schedule. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej will graciously preside at the formal opening ceremony at the main Bangkok railway station, Hua Lamphong, on July 3 at 5.30 p.m.

The first 99,999 commuters on the opening date will also receive souvenirs. From the opening date, until August 12, the royal birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, commuters will be allowed to use the subway at an especially low rate of 10 baht for all routes.

All the revenue from the fare during that period will be donated to Royal charities and foundations under the patronage of Their Majesties the King and Queen.

From August 13 - July 3 2005, the fare will rise to the 15% discounted rate of 12 - 31 baht, depending on the distance traveled, and rise to the normal rate of 14 - 36 baht thereafter.

The subway is owned and operated by the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) and the Bangkok Metro Company Limited (BMCL). Its original date of opening was set at August 12, 2004. However, as the test runs have been largely successful, it was decided to open it earlier due to public demand.

The subway will run from the city’s main railway station, Hua Lamphong, under two major thoroughfares, Rama 4 Road and Ratchadaphisek Road. It will make a major contribution to attracting more visitors to Thailand and boosting the average length of stay in Bangkok by linking several hotels, shopping centers and business districts, as well as the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Juthamas Siriwan said, "The subway will supplement the existing Bangkok Skytrain that is already playing a major role in helping visitors, business people and convention delegates get around easily and conveniently. It will significantly enhance the attraction of visiting and staying in Bangkok, one of the most exciting cities in Asia."

All the subway stations are air-conditioned and well equipped with elevators, escalators, shops, ATM machines, public telephone kiosks and ticket vending machines which accept both notes and coins as well as return change.

Special park-and-ride facilities have been established to help reduce traffic congestion. The Lat Phrao Station has a parking building for 2,000 cars while the Thailand Cultural Centre Station provides a building of up to 200 cars. Parking is being provided especially for subway passengers at a nominal rate.

Moreover, the MRTA has also cooperated with the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), operator of the city bus service, to link seven subway stations with 18 bus lines for commuters who live in the suburbs and do not always wish to take their cars.

Safety has been a primary consideration in the construction of the subway. In addition to security guards, the highest international standards have been used for the design of accident prevention and evacuation systems. It is well equipped with fire alarms, fire fighting systems, ventilation fans and emergency escapes.

The MRTA also plans to expand Bangkok’s other mass transit system, the Skytrain, which opened in December 1999. By the year 2010, the Thai government plans to expand the two mass transit systems to cover a total of 291 km, linking all parts of the city. A budget of 446.6 billion baht has been approved for the route-expansion projects.

Juthamas said, "Bangkok is the first point of arrival for 85% of the total visitors to Thailand. These mass transit systems will go a long way towards ensuring that all visitors have a pleasurable and trouble-free stay."


How to build a better mousetrap

Tourism Minister addresses seminar in Chiang Mai

Reinhard Hohler

On June 28, H.E. Sontaya Kunplome, Minister of Tourism and Sports gave an overview of government policies during the MICE seminar entitled the Future of Chiang Mai Tourism, held at the Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel.

During his one hour address to some 200 participants of the seminar organized by the Tourism Council of Thailand and the Chiang Mai Tourist Business Association, the minister stressed the government strategies to make Thailand the "Tourism Capital of Asia" in 2006 and attract 15.7 million visitors in 2008.

The Minister of Tourism and Sports, Sontaya Khunplome (third right), Dr Joe Goldblatt (2nd right) from Temple University, Jack Kelly (4th right), competitiveness consultant from J.E. Austin Associates and Kenan Institute Asia, and Boonlert Perera (5th from left), president of Chiang Mai Tourist Business Association and other guests at the seminar. (Photo by Autsadaporn Kamthai)

The minister predicted that Chiang Mai should be no more just a cheap destination because of the development of the Meetings, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition (MICE) market together with Wellness and Spa, Golf and Eco-Tourism.

To reach this ambitious goals, there is approval of the campaign "The Place to Meet, Amazing Thailand" and it is projected to raise the spending of MICE visitors from 3,700 baht to 10,000 baht per day, while the average stay will be 8 days from the present 7.7 days within the next 3-5 years.

Approved projects for Chiang Mai are the establishment of an aviation hub along with Phuket, a new convention hall, night safari park and aquarium. To guarantee that Chiang Mai will become a "World Class Convention and Exhibition Center" they will hold the "Horticultural Fair" in 2006.

Jack Kelly as Senior Competitiveness Consultant of J.E. Austin Associates Inc. and Kenan Institute Asia based in Chiang Mai, introduced the seminar’s keynote speaker, Dr. Joe Goldblatt, Professor and Executive Director of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management from Philadelphia, who gave an animated talk to demonstrate "how to build a better mouse trap" by focusing on the various strategies needed for Chiang Mai to be successful in the global MICE industry. Through the formation of the "Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau" the MICE market will be researched, designed, planned, coordinated and evaluated. If the strategists have their way, Chiang Mai may be well positioned to become one of the leading MICE tourism centers and value driven destinations in Asia by 2010. For that, Chiang Mai must have both the support from the government sector and private industry to accelerate repositioning and redevelopment.

For further information, please contact Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media Travel Consultant by email [email protected] cmnet.co.th


New high-rises going up get thumbs down

Psychological threats implied and real threats given

Saksit Meesubkwang

The general public will be asked to boycott high-rise hotels in order to discourage the construction of new ones. This amazing statement was made at a seminar on the development of Chiang Mai in relation to the impact of high-rise buildings.

It was organized by the Social Research Institute of Chiang Mai University in collaboration with the Public Health Research Institute, City and Urban Development Foundation, and Chiang Mai Networks for Traffic Jam Solutions, and took place at the BP Hotel.

Dr Chao Duangdearn na Chiangmai, president of the Chiang Mai Cultural Council, presided over the seminar which was attended by hundreds of academics, government officials, religious leaders, business entrepreneurs, local politicians and NGOs.

Dr Thanes Charoenmuang, a lecturer in Chiang Mai University’s Political Science Faculty, said the government’s policy on regional city development envisaged Chiang Mai as the center of the Upper North with an increase in the number of people moving to the city to work.

This "5th National Economic and Social Development Plan" of the government would lead to an increase in the number of high-rise buildings in the city as a consequence of the economic growth and in the number of hotels put up by investors. "Some people strongly disagree, however, saying such development can affect people psychologically," he said.

In 2002, Chiang Mai Municipality planned to construct a 12 storey office building near the Ping River bank and invited the public to tender bids. A stream of complaints from many organizations followed and research on the health impact was done. The research revealed many negative impacts from high-rise buildings and a proposal to cease the construction was sent to the Municipality. It was also asked to institute a moratorium on new high-rise buildings being constructed in the municipal area and other Tambon Administration Organization areas.

Last week’s seminar on the impact of high-rise buildings was held to provide opportunities for ordinary people to share their opinions and discuss the issue. Dr Nirundorn Photikanont, president of the Sunday Bicycle Club, speaking as one of the members of the public, said that he would instil awareness among local people by lobbying them not to arrange events at high-rise hotels. This would indirectly dissuade "other capitalists" who would like to invest in the construction of new high-rise buildings.


30 mio speed tablets smuggled into Thailand

Soldiers catching up with speedy distribution

Millions of ya ba (speed) pills are being discovered by drug suppression authorities. Gen Chaiyasith Shinawatra, commander in chief of the Royal Thai Army, reports that the Special Task Force’s 17th Infantry Department confiscated 480,000 ya ba pills in its latest operations.

During the previous week’s raids, the soldiers seized 1 million ya ba pills, 1.3 kg of heroin, 14 firearms, ammunition and 820,000 baht in cash, according to Gen Chaiyasith.

This week, the soldiers inspected Doi Sarm Muen Mountain between Ban Muang Noi and Ban Lisu in Mae Hong Son’s Pai district following earlier arrests of drug dealers and confiscation of drugs at Ban San Tong. They found ya ba tablets hidden in a buried 200 liter bucket.

It is believed the tablets were produced in a Wa drug factory in Ban Kay Luang inside Myanmar and smuggled into Thailand through villages involved in drug trafficking.

Gen Chaiyasith added that because a total of 30 million pills have been brought into Thailand from neighboring countries, more soldiers will soon be deployed along the borders to suppress drug trafficking.


Mysterious death of drug dealer

Police not around when it happened

Samphan Changthong

A drug gang member has been murdered in what police say may have been a double-cross.

Pol Maj Gen Chamnong Kaewsiri, commander of the Chiang Rai Provincial Police Division, said police received a tip-off that Jagor Jator, a Lahu hill tribe member living in Ban Kong Ngarm, Tambon Pa Sang, in Chiang Rai’s Chan district, would be bringing a large haul of ya ba (speed) pills for sale in Mae Chan.

Pol Col Kittisin Kungthaweepan, superintendent of Mae Chan Police Station, and a team of undercover police arranged to buy drugs from the dealer in a sting operation in Ban Huay Mae Pern village on June 22, arranging to meet him at 11 a.m.

However, before the transaction could take place, police received a report that Jagor Jator had been murdered. Investigating police found 1,200 ya ba pills next to the body. Police then found a further 64,000 pills in a nearby hut.

Despite the fact that the illegal haul had been left behind, police believe that Jagor was killed by other ya ba gang members. No doubt there will be a speedy result to this complex case.


Gold shops nationwide attract police attention

Crackdown on loan sharks and substandard gold

Nopniwat Krailerg

Jewellery shops providing illegal loans and selling gold of questionable quality, beware. The police are investigating.

Police pour over the evidence in search of wrongdoing.

On June 21, Crime Suppression Division police from Bangkok, led by Pol Lt Gen Sodthinunt Kuntawong, in cooperation with local police of Chang Puak police station and Muang police station, inspected a local gold shop on Muang Samut Road in Chiang Mai’s Tambon Chang Moi. They also made snap inspections of two other gold shops in Saraphi and San Kamphaeng districts.

Local police and Crime Suppression Division police inspect the gold shop business.

A plain clothes police officer asked to buy a gold necklace from the Chiang Mai shop’s manager, and then seized the necklace for quality inspection. Later police produced a search warrant to inspect the shop. They seized the gold items inventory in the shop, contracts of purchase, letters of guarantee, memos of meetings, computers and compact disks with details of the shop’s information and deposit accounts. Police also checked the details of all the employees.

Police and revenue officials inspect the gold shop’s business documents.

If the police find evidence that the shop is running an illegal business, action will be taken.

 


Faith-based organizations gear up for AIDS conference

Noel Bruyns

Faith-based organisations will have a major voice at the largest global meeting of HIV and AIDS experts, which Thailand is to host next month. They will highlight the vital, but often unrecognised role they play in fighting the spread of the virus and caring for those with it.

A wide range of organisations from Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths will be represented at the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Bangkok from July 11-16. They will share how they meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those living with HIV and AIDS and debate the challenges involved in combating stigma and preventing the spread of the virus.

"With more than 100 faith-based organizations (FBO’s) set to attend, the faith community will be at the heart and soul of the conference, alongside scientific experts, world leaders, people living with HIV and AIDS and non-governmental organisations," said a statement released by the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

More than 15,000 official delegates will converge on the Thai capital for the AIDS conference. Tens of thousands more people will pass through the conference’s Global Village - "a melting pot where everyone from sex workers to saffron-robed monks, massage therapists to meditation leaders, and artists to AIDS activists will share ideas and experiences".

The Alliance added, "The voice given by the conference to the faith-based community is in recognition of the massive range of work done by FBO’s and the key role they play in educating communities, shaping values and providing care."

Past conferences had tended to overlook this and yet in Africa, for example, church members play the leading role in caring for people affected by HIV and AIDS, especially children.

In Thailand itself, Buddhist monks are active, said the statement. For example, Thai Buddhist monk, Phra Phongthep Dhammagaruko, established a temple hospice for people with AIDS in Chiang Mai. Called Baan Peuan Cheewit (Friends of Life House), it assists people with AIDS who are abandoned by their families and trains families to care for people with HIV/AIDS.

Dr Prawate Khid-arn, of the Christian Conference of Asia, said for the first time the faith community was positioned to stand as equals with the medical and scientific communities. "The opportunity for people of faith to speak out at the Asia based 15th International AIDS Conference is timely. Asia is not only home to the world’s major religions but their influence is crucial to countering HIV and AIDS in the region and combating stigma," the Alliance said.

Linda Hartke, coordinator for the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, said, "Faith communities and religious leaders all over the world have been judgmental and hurtful to people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. At the same time, there are many examples of leaders who have rejected stigmatizing behaviour, and communities that have embraced people who are affected. As churches, we are still struggling to accept the reality that we are all living with HIV and AIDS," she stated. "We have a huge task ahead of us to build communities of faith that welcome all and judge none."

Representatives of churches and Christian organizations will have a "pre-conference" meeting in Bangkok on July 9-10 to debate the challenge of HIV and AIDS.

According to the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance more than 250 global delegates will address sensitive issues such as abstinence versus condom use; the church, HIV/AIDS and sexuality; faith communities collaborating with networks of people living with the virus; and theological training on HIV and AIDS.

At the same time, Buddhist and Muslim groups will hold parallel conferences to address similar issues. On July 10, an interfaith gathering will bring the three groups together for an orientation to the conference and to see how they can all work together.


Two ya ba tablets turn into almost 2,000

You can always trust your drug dealer - to turn you in!

A suspected drug ring member caught with only two ya ba pills led police to arrest three more drug dealers with almost 2,000 tablets.

Pol Maj Gen Kasem Rattanasunthorn, commander of the Chiang Mai Provincial Police Division, said police initially charged 27-year-old Veena Surinta with possession of two ya ba pills on June 21.

After chatting with him, they arrested three more drug dealers, 52 year old Sanan Chansiri with 495 ya ba pills, 28-year-old Songkiart Batboonruang, with 210 tablets, and 35 year old Master Sergeant Chumpol Saiwong with a haul of 1,200 ya ba.

The police commander said the three suspects were also charged with belonging to the same drug network that had brought ya ba shipments from Chiang Dao district and been trapped in a police sting operation.

During that operation, police arrested 29-year-old Ekawit Laomee and 34-year-old Mejimoh Laomee who were caught in possession of 1,000 ya ba tablets.

Pol Maj Gen Kasem said the traffickers had smuggled the drugs in from Myanmar to sell in Chiang Mai City.



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