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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Local Buddhists offended by Senator

Give a thought - and a helping hand - to the disabled

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s helping hand

Discover a hidden gem of Thailand’s northern region

BoI says northern investment up

The AIDS message spread in Chiang Mai

City gets mystery donation for taxi call centre

Domestic violence reaches worrying levels

Public to be asked for input on mass transportation scheme

Maesa Elephant Nursery has patter of eight baby elephant feet

Free course to learn traditional Thai massage

Building of government offices grinds to a halt

Suspected car rental thief on the run

Radio Thailand a hit with local dialect speakers in Phrae

Local Buddhists offended by Senator

Lanna people demand an apology

Nopniwat Krailerg and Saksit Meesubkwang

Chiang Mai residents have signed a petition for a Khon Kaen province senator to be sacked because of her claims that a Buddhist tradition violates her constitutional right as a woman.

Senator Rabiabrat Pongpanich, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Women, Youth and the Aged Affairs, has offended Buddhists by challenging the prohibition banning women from entering the inner area of Prathat Doi Suthep’s main pagoda.

The senator was refused entrance, and said this violated her right as a woman as set out in clause 30 of the Thai Constitution. Rabiabrat also asked the National Buddhism Bureau to give her reasons for the refusal.

People in Chiang Mai and nearby provinces have been discussing the issue for more than a week through radio programs, newspapers and television. She is accused of showing disrespect for Buddhist beliefs and a Lanna custom.

On July 7, dissatisfaction with her action reached the point where a crowd that included elderly people, monks, teachers and teenagers gathered at Wat Loke Molee and Buddha Satarn, Chiang Mai, to sign their names calling for her to be ousted from her political posts.

The abbot of Wat Loke Molee, Dr Duangkam Aphiwattano, said what the senator had been trying to do was “really sinful” according to Buddhist customs and would stoke up anger in the fervent Buddhists of the north.

The chairman of the province’s Culture and Customs Conservation Club, Pichai Kotwichian, said that he felt upset with senator Rabiabrat. “The custom has been accepted for a long time and has become a Lanna tradition that everyone should respect. Prathat Doi Suthep is highly respected by the local people and even high-ranking people and royal descendants have never objected to the prohibition,” Pichai said. He called on Rabiabrat to review her actions and apologize.

One retired teacher said she felt as if the senator had insulted the people of Chiang Mai and their customs. “Chiang Mai women have paid respect to and followed the prohibition and never considered it their right to enter the sacred place before, because they can distinguish the law from the customs,” she said. She added that she was very angry with the senator when she listened to her speaking on the subject on TV.

Thanet Homthanikul, chairman of the Chiang Mai Teenagers Club, said it was improper for the senator to insist she had a right to enter the pagoda. “As I am a Buddhist, I want to protect my religion, otherwise other people will keep on offending our religious customs,” he said.

He also wanted the senator to apologize to the people of Chiang Mai and called on her not to act against the religion again.


Give a thought - and a helping hand - to the disabled

Chiang Mai lacking facilities for disabled persons

Vincent Leutwiler
and Autsadaporn Kamthai

Disabled people often have to struggle just to get around in public places as they do not have adequate facilities for them.

To address this, a Communicating for Advocacy workshop took place at the Holiday Garden Hotel in Chiang Mai from July 5-7.

The director general of the Mental Health Department, Dr Prach Boonyawongwiroj, presents a certificate to one of the participants at the end of the workshop.

The participants discussed the lack of facilities for disabled persons in many public places focusing on shopping malls. They noted that facilities such as ramps or handrails in public toilets are often not provided, causing inconvenience for the disabled. Hardly falling in line with the definition of a ‘public convenience’!

Participants included Luc Masschelein, founder of the Foundation for Disabled Children-Thailand; Leng Sour from the Cambodia Health Education Media Service; Shahidul Haque and Mayeen Ahmed from the Social Assistance and Rehabilitation of the Physically Vulnerable (SARPV) from Bangladesh; Douglas A. Tell and some of his colleagues from Wheels of Hope and Pioneer of Hope; and several representatives from Thailand’s Department of Mental Health, Ministry of Public Health and Northern Child Development and Healthlink Worldwide.

People attending the workshop hope to raise public awareness and encourage people to help disabled persons in public places. They also call for facilities to be provided.

The general director of the Mental Health Department, Dr Prach Boonyawongwiroj, took part in the workshop to listen to the concerns of the participants and encourage them in their work.


HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s helping hand

Nan’s hill tribes benefit from her projects

Phitsanu Thepthong

When HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited the remote rural villages in Nan province’s Bor Klua district in February 1995, she was so moved that she felt compelled to help the villagers improve their quality of life.

Local handicrafts draw the visitors’ attention.

These people in Ban Bor Luang, tambon Phu Fa, were mostly economically and socially disadvantaged hill tribes. She therefore initiated her own private project office to start development projects, beginning with setting up primary schools as the top priority.

Projects under the aegis of the Phu Fa Development Center were established in November 1999. Their aim was to promote eco-friendly sustainable development schemes, self-reliance, and knowledge for the local people in the districts of Bor Klua and Chalerm Phra Kiart.

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s residence under construction.

HRH Princess Maha Chakri’s residence is now under construction, together with training centers to help develop this area in terms of production and marketing of local products, for the hill tribes of Thint (or Kamu) and Lua hill tribe minority groups.

The Phu Fa Development Center, aims at maximizing highlands agricultural projects, initiated by HRH Princess Maha Chakri, with financial support from several organizations and cooperation from Japan and the Thai government.

Terrace farming under management of the Phu Fa Development Center in Bor Klua district, Nan.

During the initial stage of the project developments, 120 hill tribe families have been allocated farming lands, with each family provided 10-15 rai for integrated farming for their crops.

“We hope that they can follow the project center objectives in Bor Klua district first, and can grow chemical-free fruits and vegetables. The center has planned to extend more areas of crop plantations next in Chalerm Phrakiat district,” said Prakit Vongsrivattanakul, the secretary of the project center.

The center’s major schemes involve education, mother and child welfare, career promotion and training and local traditions and culture awareness.

The Centre also focuses on implementing a plan of career training in agriculture, especially the cultivation of U-long tea. Tao, a type of palm fruit and makhampom or emblic or phyllanthus emblica L. as well as the local production of handicraft baskets could also be available.

Prakit said that the center staff were going to teach the hill tribe groups, marketing and production methods as well. “Formerly, they earned 700 baht per year per rai from their rice faming, but once the project is launched, they would be able to earn up to 5,000 baht per rai per year,” he said, stressing the introduction of integrated farming methods for them.


Discover a hidden gem of Thailand’s northern region

Phitsanu Thepthong

Border trade and tourism are booming at the Thai-Laos checkpoint in Ban Huay Koan in Nan province’s Chalerm Phra Kiart district connecting with Muang Ngern in Laos. This is one of the results of the Thai government improving the road from this border checkpoint into Laos’ Muang Ngern town and adjacent Hongsa in our northern neighbor’s Xaiyaburi province.

The Thai checkpoint building for immigration and customs.

The checkpoint, about 140 km north of Nan city, is also the gateway to Luang Phrabang and Vientiane in Laos, to Sibsong Panna and Kunming cities in southern China, as well as the town of Dien Bienfu in Vietnam.

Dubbed as the hidden gem of the northern region of Thailand, Nan province’s Chalerm Phra Kiart district in the east Lanna region is being developed as a gateway to Indochina, as it shares a 100 km. long border with Laos to the North and the East.

Ready for trading at the checkpoint between Thai and Laos peoples.

Cross border trade between Nan and Laos has played an important role in promoting business, and this checkpoint has been developed to facilitate trade and tourism between Thai and Laos peoples. Since it was opened in 1994, Thailand has imported products such as wood, lignite and kaolin from Laos for use in cottage industries in Nan and nearby provinces.

The Nan Administrative Organization sought a budget from the government to support a project to develop the Huay Koan border market into a tourist spot, creating jobs and generating income for the local people. Their request was answered in 2002 when it received 29.8 million baht for the Huay Koan border development project.

This area has now become a thriving border market which serves as a transportation network linking the two countries. However, this is not an immigration point, as people are allowed to cross only at the immigration office points at Chiang Khong border passes in Chiang Rai and in Nong Khai province in northeastern Thailand.

Every Saturday, about 100 Laotians cross the border to shop at the morning market on the Thai side. However, Laos people still have less buying power than Thais. The result is that in the Thai-Laos border trade, Thailand has been showing a trade deficit over the past eight years. The Thai export figure stands at 11 million baht, while imports from Laos are worth 1.3 billion baht.


BoI says northern investment up

Autsadaporn Kamthai

Investment in the North in the first half was healthy and at a satisfactory level, according to the director of the BoI (Board of Investment Northern Office), Siriporn Nurak.

Investment increased by 48.15 percent over last year, and the value of investment is 10.3 billion baht.

The director of the Board of Investment (Northern Office), Siriporn Nurak.

Most investment came from small and medium enterprise investors. Agro industry and products are still the most popular types of business, with investors starting 18 projects, injecting 4 billion baht. The electronic appliances industry ranked second, with eight projects and an investment of 3.7 billion baht. Third came the metal and metal parts industry, with four new projects invested in at 1.9 billion baht.

Fifteen new projects were started in Lamphun province, and 14 in Chiang Mai. Investors started two new projects each in Nakhon Sawan and Uttaradit provinces, and one each in Kampaeng Petch, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Phitsanulok, Phichit and Lampang.

Of the projects approved by the Board of Investment (BoI), almost 70 percent have only Thai shareholders while 25 percent have foreign shareholders.

The BoI director predicted a good second half of the year, although the situation in Iraq, rising oil prices, and growth in bank interest rates may have an effect on decisions to invest here.

To support and increase investment potential in the region, the BoI arranged a seminar on “Policy to Support New Investment” for Northern Handicrafts Manufacturers and Export Association (NOHMEX) members and four to five star OTOP (One Tambon One Product) producers on July 16 at Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel. It will organize a public relations fair exclusively for foreign investors at the venue on July 30.

For more information, please contact the BoI office at the Airport Business Park on Mahidol Road or call 0-5320-3397-400, or e-mail [email protected]


The AIDS message spread in Chiang Mai

One million carry the virus in Thailand

Vincent Leutwiler and Jiraphat Warasin

Chiang Mai held its own AIDS conference at the Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel on July 8-9. Its purpose was to improve the response to HIV and AIDS among the public by the sharing of experiences and learning from others, as well as to raise AIDS awareness by using the AIDS education program.

Dr Usa Doungsa, coordinator of AIDS Education at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Education.

Dr Usa Doungsa, coordinator of AIDS Education at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Education, said participants exchanged their experiences of work on HIV, aimed at preventing people from becoming infected with the virus. “In this modern world, parents and religious leaders should realize the AIDS situation and teach people to always use condoms when having sexual intercourse to reduce the risk of infection,” Dr Usa said.

Nuntawan Yantadilokhe of the Office of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Public Health Ministry said that statistics showed Thailand has one million people infected with HIV. About 84 percent of newly infected HIV positive persons contracted the virus through sexual intercourse without using condoms, even though they are highly educated. “The issue of AIDS and sex education should go hand in hand, and students should be taught to think of the consequence of unprotected sexual intercourse such as unwanted pregnancies and HIV transmission,” Nuntawan said.

Nuntawan Yantadilokhe of the Office of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Public Health Ministry.

Nuntawan said the department aims to distribute anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to 60,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS by next year, and it has already distributed ARVs to 40,000 of them through the 30 baht health scheme.

ARV resistance occurs in only 10 percent of patients and at present Thailand uses GPO Via, which is manufactured by the Government Pharmaceutical Organization.

Nuntawan asked people living with HIV/AIDS to realize that anti-retrovirals might have some side effects, “But we want you to take the ARVs as prescribed. Your body will form a resistance to them if you stop taking them and then you will have to take other kinds of concentrated drugs instead.”

She also warned people living with HIV and AIDS not to buy drugs being sold through many websites. They should also go for a blood test to check the viral load before taking any drugs - which should not be done without medical supervision.


City gets mystery donation for taxi call centre

Is this finally the end of the belching red buses?

Nopniwat Krailerg

A mystery donor has given the Nakhon Lanna Transport Cooperatives millions of baht to spend on setting up a center for red minibuses, meter taxis and a radio center for taxis.

Singkam Nunti, chairperson of the Cooperatives, told Chiangmai Mail he was not at liberty to give more details of the source of the finance at present. “The money will be used to construct a parking lot for the Cooperatives’ cars that will be manned 24 hours a day,” he said.

Tourists can call the center at all hours for car services and the center will radio the nearest car on the road or a car in the parking pool to go and pick up the passenger. The parking center is expected to be at one of the city hotels.

Singkam said he could see the center coming into operation within this year, while the current office of the cooperatives, in front of the Chiang Mai Cultural Center, will continue to operate.

He said there are currently only four meter taxis in service. “The Cooperatives will put 20 more onto the streets in the next three months. They are being prepared to be put into service.” Singkam said that the meter taxis were popular among tourists and there are not enough to meet the demand for them.

While another 20 taxis is a step in the right direction, a cursory glance at the transportation needs in any tourist city would have shown the need for meter taxis years ago. It seems as if Chiang Mai is being slowly dragged into the 21st century! Now if it follows Bangkok’s lead and introduces taxi motorcycles and takes away 90 percent of the red buses, the traffic congestion is fixed, and people will be able to get about to carry out errands around the city.


Domestic violence reaches worrying levels

Chiang Mai workshop drafts proposed law

Staff reporters

Violence against women and children in Thailand is increasing and a proposed law against it is to be presented to the Cabinet. This was brought out at by Charnyut Kosirinont, director of the Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development, who presided over a workshop on the issue.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Ministry of Public Health organized the workshop in Chiang Mai to facilitate the work of relevant organizations and promote cooperation among them to help women and children who suffer various kinds of violence.

Service centers to assist women and children have previously been established in 876 districts countrywide to address the problem.

Sujit Tripitak, director of the Family Institute Promotion Office, said violence against women and children was increasing in both number and degree. “Statistics show domestic violence is very prevalent. The oldest reported victim is 77 and the youngest seven months. The major cause is couples who are not ready to have families, so are unable to give enough love and warmth, as well as not being able to deal with the materialistic society,” Sujit said.

It was noted that relevant organizations, with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security as the main supporter, should provide students with knowledge on family life and encourage both provincial and tambon administration organizations to run training courses for couples who plan to live together. They should also set up centers for family development in their communities to help solve the problem.

A proposed law against violence against women and children was drafted at the conference. It will be handed to the Cabinet.


Public to be asked for input on mass transportation scheme

Last time we were asked was eight years ago

Saksit Meesubkwang

The Chiang Mai public will be invited to submit their ideas on a mass transportation system for the city and region.

The Office of Transportation and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP) of the Transport Ministry organized a seminar on the issue at the Empress Hotel on July 9, following the mobile Cabinet which proposed a 146 million baht budget for Chiang Mai to spend on a feasibility study.

Kamrobluk Surassawadee, the director of the OTP, chaired the public meeting which was attended by participants from local administration organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association, and academics.

Kamrobluk said that the government had set a one year deadline for the province to complete the study to estimate the demand for and type of transportation service for the region. The cabinet also ordered that the study of both present and future transportation should be done in relation with the provincial development strategies.

The study will look at whether a monorail or two-track train is preferable. “However, opinion polls on the benefits and disadvantages of the mass transportation proposals must be carried out among Chiang Mai residents to prevent any disagreement between the public and government,” Kamrobluk said.

Chaithawat Saowaphon, the director of Information Technology Service Center of Chiang Mai University, who carried out previous public opinion polls on Chiang Mai’s mass transportation said the government could not use the poll results of eight years ago because the society and demands of the people had changed.

At present, he said, the ring road is very beneficial and convenient for many Chiang Rai residents as more and more people tend to live in housing estates along it.

However, he believed that the “poor planning” of Chiang Mai’s mass transportation was one of major causes of air pollution. He agreed with the concept of mass transportation in Chiang Mai but suggested the government should study the impact on residents and the landscape, as well as red bus drivers before embarking on the project.


Maesa Elephant Nursery has patter of eight baby elephant feet

Two proud Mums and one even prouder Dad

Editorial staff
Photos by Maesa Elephant Nursery

The Maesa Elephant Nursery in Chiang Mai’s Mae Rim district have two new bouncing babies, and tourists and visitors are flocking to see the cute little ones.

The first baby being assisted by birthing assistants.

The Anchalee Kalmapijit, deputy managing director of Maesa Elephant Nursery said the two baby elephants were in good health, and so far the 38 year old mother elephant Somnuek was also fine.

The first baby was born at 1.55 a.m. on June 21 and weighed in at 90kg and is 97cm high. His father is 41 year old Sidor.

The second new baby with mother Pangsuay.

Three days later, the second baby elephant was born at 2.40 p.m. weighing in at 95kg and measuring 100cm. Sidor (AKA Lothario) was also the father here, but the mother elephant is Pangsuay.

Veterinarian Ronnachit Rungsri said vets from Chiang Mai University would take care of the mother elephants to ensure they do not pick up any infections and are in good health to feed the new arrivals


Free course to learn traditional Thai massage

Nopniwat Krailerg

Ten prisoners at Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution have learned how to give traditional Thai massages and are looking forward to train others, according to its director, Naowarat Thanasrisutharat.

The offer to learn traditional Thai massage and foot massage is also being extended to the general public, with tuition being free. The prisoners will share their knowledge with those interested in learning this skill at the correctional facility.

They did their courses which were run by the Chiang Mai Labor Skills Development Center and Ministry of Public Health.

The institution is now also offering its inmates occupational training courses in 16 fields including, beautician, traditional masseuse, tailor, mechanic, tile layer, baker, weaver and flower arrangements.

Naowarat said 80 percent of inmates (1,615 women) are serving sentences for drug-related crimes. He also said there are no new convictions in connection with narcotics because of the successful “war on drugs”.

There are no Western prisoners, and the only non-Thai prisoners are of Burmese descent.

Those interested in the free massage training course should telephone 0-5322-1231 ext 17 for more information. You do not have to commit a crime to enroll!


Building of government offices grinds to a halt

Nopniwat Krailerg

The construction of a government center in Chiang Mai’s San Kamphaeng district has been halted as the owner of the land is asking for 36 million baht in compensation for the removal of his tobacco factory.

The cessation has occurred, even though Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra initiated it, the plans were completed and construction workers were ready to start.

Surachai Chongruk, San Kamphaeng district chief officer, told Chiangmai Mail that the province and district acknowledged that they had the problems and were trying to cope with them.

PM Thaksin had also told the chairperson of San Kamphaeng’s Kamnan and Village Headmen Club to speed up the construction, when he was in Lamphun at the end of last month for the mobile Cabinet meeting.

The factory owner wanted 27 million baht compensation for an improvement at the factory in Ban Huai Krai in Ban Thi district, Lamphun and another 8 million baht for its transferal.

Surachai said that construction was to have started in mid July on the 108 rai area of the tobacco factory in Tambon Rong Wuadaeng, San Kamphaeng district, at a cost of 7.8 million baht.


Suspected car rental thief on the run

Police looking for a rental car?

Autsadaporn Kamthai

The Provincial Police Bureau, Region 5 is hunting for a Burmese woman nicknamed Rita, who is allegedly part of a gang stealing rental cars.

The woman, Duangneth (Rita) Klaingam, is reported to have forged documents to rent vehicles from many car rental companies and then hiding the cars before they are spirited across the border to be sold.

Police went to her house in Hang Dong district, but she had managed drive off in her rental car and evaded them before they turned up.

While on the premises, police confiscated car and motorcycle hire contracts, car keys and a pickup truck, which had been reported stolen from Khon Kaen province in the Northeast.

The police reported that Rita was in the same gang as Thanakorn Phomun, 30, a resident of tambon Padaed in Chiang Mai’s Muang district who was arrested two years ago on a charge of forging documents to rent cars and sending them to neighboring countries to be sold.

Police also searched the house of Wirat Chaowapreechakul, 48, in Mae Sot district, Tak province, where they suspected cars and motorcycles stolen in the northern region were also being kept.

They found two cars, one pickup truck and ten motorcycles. The police also discovered purchase and pawn contracts for over 10 cars, a bank account book with entries of over 100,000 baht, gold pawnshop receipts and purchase contracts for 100 baht weight gold ornaments.

Wirat has initially been charged with loan sharking. Police hope to track down other suspected thieves in his alleged network after questioning him.

The crackdown on suspected rental car thieves in the northern region follows the large number of companies making complaints to the police.


Radio Thailand a hit with local dialect speakers in Phrae

Phitsanu Thepthong

Somkid Boonthaworn, the director of Radio Thailand, Phrae station, says community radio talk-back shows on local issues are very popular in the region. The most popular are issues concerning local problems, local news, and government issues, according to Somkid.

Community radio on air with local lawyers and commentators at Radio Thailand, Phrae.

Radio Thailand Phrae, is run by the Thai government. It broadcasts programs covering Phrae, Lampang, Uttaradit and some parts of Phitsanulok provinces from 4 a.m. to midnight daily.

Some radio programs are run by local people, lawyers, and police, on different issues such alien immigrant registration for Cambodians, Laotians and Burmese, as well as issues as the anti-drugs campaign.

Some radio programs also give youth groups air time, playing local folk songs hoping to stop them dying out as modern pop songs are aired more often on commercial radio.

“Most of the listeners like the radio announcers who speak in the northern dialect; we get good feedback from many callers during the live phone-in programs,” says radio news program chief Chanisa Chomsilp.

One program host says the most popular issues involve conflicts between spouses, as well as property and asset transfers between them. “These are hot issues, so I use Buddhist principles to offer compromise to help solve their problems.”