NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Thaksin overthrown in bloodless coup

Media requested to report coup news carefully

Mae Chaem River floods Hot District

Rear Admiral tightens border security in the north

Governor worried about Chiang Mai’s historical sites

2000 police officers fully prepared for International Horticultural Exposition

International Horticultural Expo completion on schedule

Football gambling ring busted in Lamphun

One killed, five injured in fatal truck fall

Forest officer arrested for transferring ya ba

Soldier murdered during guard duty at Mae Hong Son border

Rangers clash with drug caravan

Entertainment venue faces closure after assault on student

Rescued goat prompts cheers from onlookers

Drug dealer killed in a shoot-out with police

Thaksin overthrown in bloodless coup

Thai coup leader pledges elections in one year; hints Thaksin could face prosecution

Denis D. Gray
Bangkok, Thailand (AP) - The army commander who seized Thailand’s government Wednesday in a quick, bloodless coup pledged to hold elections by October 2007, and hinted that ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra may face prosecution.

Thailand’s Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin speaks during a press conference in Bangkok Wednesday, Sept. 20 (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin led a precision takeover overnight without firing a shot, sending soldiers and tanks to guard major intersections and surround government buildings while the popularly elected Thaksin, accused of corruption and undermining democratic institutions, was abroad.
Asked if there would be moves to confiscate Thaksin’s vast assets, Sondhi said at a news conference that “those who have committed wrongdoings have to be prosecuted according to the law.” He did not elaborate.
A British government spokesman said Thaksin was en route to Britain, but had no meetings scheduled with Prime Minister Tony Blair or other officials.
“Any citizen of the world is free to visit the United Kingdom providing their paperwork is in order,” he said on condition of anonymity, in line with government policy.
“He can come spend his money at Harrods if he wants to,” the spokesman said, referring to the famous up-market London department store.
A reporter for state-owned Thai radio station MCOT who was traveling with Thaksin said he boarded a flight from New York - where he’d canceled a scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly - to London, where the tycoon-turned-politician has a residence.
Sondhi said he would act as prime minister for two weeks until a new leader is found, that an interim constitution would be drafted within that time, and that Thailand’s foreign policy and international agreements will not change.
Thailand will hold a general election in October 2007, he said.
Sondhi said the coup, Thailand’s first in 15 years, was necessary to heal mounting rifts in Thai society, and to end government corruption, insults to the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and what the general called Thaksin’s attempts to destroy democratic institutions.
Most residents and tourists in Bangkok, a city of more than 10 million, were calm and unfazed Wednesday.
About 500 people gathered outside army headquarters Wednesday afternoon lending moral support to the military and chanting “Thaksin Get Out!”
The newly created Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy put Thailand under martial law and declared a provisional authority loyal to the king, seizing television and radio stations and ordering government offices, banks, schools and the stock market to close for the day.
Nearly 20 tanks - their gun barrels festooned with ribbons in the monarch’s color, yellow - had blocked off the Royal Palace, Royal Plaza, army headquarters and Thaksin’s office at Government House.
Tanks began shifting from their downtown Bangkok positions Wednesday evening, but it was unclear if they were withdrawing. Military public relations officials said they could not immediately comment.
The overthrow was needed “to resolve the conflict and bring back normalcy and harmony among people,” Sondhi said on nationwide TV.
“We would like to reaffirm that we don’t have any intention to rule the country and will return power to the Thai people as soon as possible,” he said, flanked by the three armed forces chiefs and the national police chief.

Soldiers guard the US Consul to Chiang Mai. (Photo by Saksit Meesubkwang)

A statement from coup leaders urged workers and farmers - Thaksin’s key constituents - to remain calm, and said unauthorized gatherings of more than five people were punishable by six months in prison under martial law.
The Nation newspaper in Bangkok said several senior government officials and others close to Thaksin had been arrested, their fates unknown.
It said they included Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and Supreme Military Commander Gen. Ruengroj Maharsaranond.
Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, one of Thaksin’s closest political associates, fled to Paris with her family, it said.
Reacting to rumors that he would be appointed interim prime minister, central bank head Pridiyathorn Devakula said, “I haven’t been approached and I don’t know whether I am a candidate.”
He said that the public has accepted the coup, so it was unlikely to have much impact on foreign confidence in the country, and that the Thai baht currency had recovered from its overnight low with no intervention.
In New York, a Thai business executive who said he was speaking on behalf of Thaksin said the toppled leader was not resigned to his fate.
“The prime minister has not given up his power. He is not seeking asylum,” said Tom Kruesopon, chief executive officer of Boon Rawd Trading International Co., who said he was traveling with Thaksin.
But Thaksin’s official government spokesman, Surapong Suebwonglee, also traveling with him, was gloomier. “We have to accept what happened,” he said. “We are not coming back soon.”
Some Thais welcomed the coup as a necessary climax to months of demands for Thaksin’s resignation amid allegations of corruption and electoral skullduggery, and a worsening insurgency in south Thailand.
A few dozen people raced over to the prime minister’s office overnight to photograph the tanks.
“This is exciting. Someone had to do this. It’s the right thing,” said Somboon Sukheviriya, 45, a software developer snapping pictures with his mobile phone.
The U.S. State Department said it was uneasy about the takeover and hopes “the Thai people will resolve their political differences in accord with democratic principles and the rule of law.”
Australia said it was concerned to see democracy “destroyed,” and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said her country “condemns” the coup.
Japan called for efforts to quickly restore democracy in Thailand, where many leading Japanese businesses have factories and affiliates.
Sondhi, 59, known to be close to Thailand’s constitutional monarch, is a Muslim in a Buddhist-dominated nation.
He was selected last year to head the army, partly because it was felt he could better deal with the insurgency in the south, where 1,700 people have been killed since 2004. He has urged negotiations with the separatists, in contrast to Thaksin’s hard-line approach.
Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon before entering politics, handily won three general elections after coming to power in 2001 and garnered great support among the rural poor for his populist policies.
But he alienated the urban middle class, intellectuals and pro-democracy activists. They began mass street demonstrations late last year, charging him with abuse of power, corruption and emasculation of the country’s democratic institutions, including media that were once among Asia’s freest.
Associated Press reporters Jocelyn Gecker, Sutin Wannabovorn, Rungrawee C. Pinyorat and Alisa Tang contributed to this story.


Media requested to report coup news carefully

Saksit Meesubkwang
At 33rd Army Circle on Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road, chief officers of government organizations of three provinces, Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son presented themselves in response to demands by the coup leaders who have described themselves as the Democratic Reform Council. The command issued on Wednesday morning called for governors, police and military commanders or commissioners, presidents of Provincial Administration Organizations, mayors and many other chief officers to report to the Army base.
Maj. Gen. Supasorn Sangprakul, commander of 33rd Army Circle also requested media not to interview residents who were unaware of the full facts surrounding the coup, to avoid schism and discrimination. All radio stations have been instructed to stop broadcasting as some stations invited listeners to air their opinions either for or against the former government. Community radio stations have to stop broadcasting until a new order is issued.
The commander claims 1,000 soldiers of the 33rd Army Circle have been sent to several important points such as the airport, power house, public water office, telephone organizations and foreign consuls to prevent awkward situations. All points along the Thai-Burmese border are carrying out strict checks to prevent aliens entering the kingdom during this difficult period.


Mae Chaem River floods Hot District

Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son Road in Hot District flooded, causing traffic jams and problems for residents.

Saksit Meesubkwang
On September 12 waters from the Mae Chaem River flooded a bridge on the Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son road at km 9. The flood affected approximately 5 metres of the road, rendering it impassable to vehicles. The following day the floodwaters from Mae Chaem inundated 200 households in Hot district, damaging 2,000 rai of farmland and sweeping away 3,000 livestock. Additionally the Tha Kham Bridge flooded, blocking the road to vehicles and destroying six riverside shops.
In response to the floods, Hot district’s chief officer has assigned volunteer officers, village headmen and Tambon Administration Organisation officials to help deliver food, drink, blankets and other essential products to those affected. The district chief officer has been providing continual updates regarding the situation to Chiang Mai governor Suwat Tantipat, in order to ensure that aid could be effectively coordinated at a provincial level.
The floods are believed to have been caused by five hours of continual heavy rainfall in the upper Mae Chaem River basin. The rain increased the volume of water, leading to the floods. These are the first recorded floods in Hot district.
As Hot district struggled to cope with the floods, residents pointed the blame at the Northern Meteorological centre, which they claimed had predicted rain only in the upper north of Thailand.


Rear Admiral tightens border security in the north

Saksit Meesubkwang
With orders to tighten border security in the north, Rear Admiral Likhit Jaruensupt opened a small naval base on the Mekong riverbank in Baan Pak Ing Tai Village near Chiang Khong. By using his force of small boats to regularly patrol the river, he aims to reduce or suppress the transfer of drugs and alien laborers from neighboring countries. He also hopes the increased high profile presence of his small force will deter the growing numbers of North Korean citizens trying to enter Thailand.
He proposed to enforce registration of all boats, including fishing boats, water-taxis, passenger and cargo boats, and record all details of their owners. This would enable his officers to more easily check on the comings and goings of the many craft engaged in various businesses on the Mekong.
However, he said that statistics show that drug transference in the northern region is at present on the decline due to the efforts of the drug suppression teams. Evidence points to a change in the usual transference routes, which have now swung more to the north-east of Thailand.
He added that Thai authorities have asked for cooperation from the Laos government to include Laos fishing boats and long tail boats in the compulsory registration. This process should help the patrols to swiftly verify the activities of any boat that is stopped and searched, and make the border easier to control and protect.
The rear admiral added that this cooperation should promote good understanding between the two countries and go a long way to help solve the ever-present drug smuggling problem. This compulsory registration will also be applied in Chiang Saen and Wiang Kaen districts of Chiang Rai and eventually, cover the whole of the north-east of Thailand.
At present, 480 vessels plying the Mekong in Chiang Khong District have already registered, but there are many more that have not yet done so.
The new base in Baan Pak Ing Tai Village has been set up with the assistance of the villagers and will be named “Village Port”. It is the pilot project for the scheme and more village ports will be established in other villages along the Mekong to prevent smuggling and illegal dealing.


Governor worried about Chiang Mai’s historical sites

Chang Puek Gate in Chiang Mai, a historical site, collapsed during the recent heavy rain.

Nopniwat Krailerg
The recent damage that occurred with the collapse of the city wall at Chiang Puek Gate, the city canal and the pagoda at Phan Own Temple has made everyone realize the vulnerability of important historical structures in the city.
The damage was caused by the recent heavy rains seeping into cracks and open joints in the ancient masonry, and the weight of water accumulating inside the structure finally causing catastrophic collapse.
Because of their age and state of disrepair, historical sites in Chiang Mai are becoming particularly prone to this sort of damage, attracting criticism from many residents aimed at the municipal authorities for not taking better care of these important historical sites.
Governor Suwat Tantipat said that he acknowledged what had happened, and added that these historical sites have to be swiftly restored, because they are what made the image of the Lanna City of Chiang Mai so unique.
Suwat also said that he will discuss the situation with related organizations, especially Chiang Mai Municipality, with a view to initiating swift repairs. However, before restoration work can start, the opinions of experts have to be gathered to ensure that the necessary work can be done under controlled conditions that will not affect the remaining structures and cause more damage.
Suwat also said that the solution to the problem falls into two categories. Obviously, the collapse of these historical structures presents an unsightly image to visitors and people who had come to Chiang Mai attracted by the history and culture of the city, and especially wanted to view them.
Secondly, from a safety point of view, the succession of recent collapses have brought to everyone’s attention that these huge masonry structures have got to such a condition that they have become dangerous, and the city authorities should count themselves fortunate that nobody was injured or killed when these structures collapsed.
However, the responsibility for the repair of the structures rests with the Department of Fine Arts. The province has to hurry on this matter, otherwise it may reflect a negative image to people. The governor stated that he had reminded the organizations that are responsible for taking care of the historical and religious sites to survey the strength of the masonry and try to estimate the damage that is likely to occur when there is heavy rain. They should take steps to put a maintenance program in place, because it would be far better to prevent the ingress of rainwater, rather than having to completely restore the structure after the damage has occurred.


2000 police officers fully prepared for International Horticultural Exposition

Nopniwat Krailerg
Provincial Police Bureau Region 5 has about 2,000 fully trained officers ready to provide security and ensure that traffic runs smoothly for the International Horticultural Exposition Ratchaphruek 2006.
Pol. Maj. Gen. Charumporn Suramanee, Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy commissioner gave a lecture to his officers on providing security and facilitating traffic for the International Horticultural Exposition. Because Ratchapruek 2006 is dedicated to celebrating the 60th anniversary of HM the King’s ascension to the throne, many royal personages and foreign dignitaries will be attending the celebrations. Every police officer must have up-to-date knowledge of how best to provide security to the royal visitors and other VIP’s.
Pol. Maj. Gen. Jiruj Promobol, commander of Chiang Mai Provincial Police said that they are anticipating that more than 2 million visitors would be coming to the International Horticultural Exposition, which will be held from November 1 to January 31.
Among the 2,000 police officers who are responsible for the day-to-day security in Chiang Mai, there are specialist teams fully trained in providing tighter security necessary for VIP guests.


International Horticultural Expo completion on schedule

Residents visit the opening of Haw Kham Luang, a building on the expo site.

Nopniwat Krailerg
On September 15 Sudarat Keyuraphan, minister of agriculture and cooperatives, visited Chiang Mai to check on the progress of preparations for the International Horticultural Exposition. Following her inspection she declared that she was satisfied with the progress of preparations. She said that the expo is on schedule to be completed before the opening day. Display zones from 33 countries also confirmed that they would be finished in time for the November 1 opening.
Sudarat emphasised that Chiang Mai must have the necessary facilities in place to receive visitors to the exposition. She said that accommodation, traffic system management and transportation plans all had to be in place. The exposition itself must make sure that direction signs are set up in the exposition, along with facilities for the elderly and disabled.
Following concerns from local farmers that the expo would drain their water reserves, organisers revealed that they had their own water supply in a 300,000 cubic metre pool constructed on-site. They went on to say that excess water from this pool will be offered to any farmers lacking water and any interested parties should submit a request to the expo organisers.
On the same day Sudarat addressed around 1500 Chiang Mai residents in the expo convention hall. She told the crowd that they should prepare to welcome visitors from around the world to Chiang Mai and encouraged them to wear a local Lanna costume. She also urged them to clean households and streets and decorate them with flowers.


Football gambling ring busted in Lamphun

Nopniwat Krailerg
After receiving complaints from concerned parents, police from Lamphun police station raided a house where teenagers gathered to gamble on football games. The raids occurred on September 7 and resulted in the arrest of the owner of the premises and the confiscation of money and other items.
Acting on an anonymous tip, police raided a house in Baan Klang sub-district, Lamphun. After searching the house, officers discovered a 9 mm caliber pistol loaded with eight bullets, 6,780 baht in cash, 268 lists of football matches, accounts detailing gambling transactions amounting to over 200,000 baht, two cell phones and 15 miscellaneous appliances. The items were confiscated and the owner of the house, Bancha Suphiraj, 30, was arrested and taken to Lamphun police station to be charged.
In Chiang Mai there are many locations that allow people to make bets on football matches, and they are especially active during the European football season. Many teenagers and students get themselves into debt due to gambling, leading to additional problems such as theft, in order to fund their gambling.


One killed, five injured in fatal truck fall

Saksit Meesubkwang
One worker died and five others were admitted to Nakorn Ping Hospital after the driver returning them from work accidentally hit the switch to dump the back of the truck.
The accident occurred on September 9 in front of Baan Ing Doi on the Irrigation Canal Road. Reports revealed that the truck had been transporting six workers back from the site of the International Horticultural Exposition, when the driver, while attempting to change from third to fourth gear, accidentally hit the switch that dumped the back of the truck, spilling the workers onto the road.
Police officers from Chang Puek police station arrived on the scene to find a two metre long bloodstain and the body of Deye Naopanprot, 48, a Lahu tribesman living in Doi Saket. The other five workers were admitted to Nakorn Ping Hospital.
On further investigation the police discovered that the yellow six-wheel truck had no license plate.
Inphap, the truck driver, was arrested and charged with driving an unlicensed vehicle and careless driving resulting in a death. Inphap told police that he had not been drinking at the time of the accident and that the workers were hired by Boonluey Kantaprom, a construction agent for the International Horticultural Exposition.


Forest officer arrested for transferring ya ba

Staff Reporter
A forestry officer was recently caught in possession of narcotics when his unlicensed pick-up was pulled over by the police on September 8. The vehicle, containing two persons, was stopped and searched at a checkpoint at Baan Kaeng Pan Tao of Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai Province by Chiang Dao police and officers of the Pha Muang Task Force.
230 ya ba pills were discovered hidden in the men’s underwear and they were both asked to provide a urine sample, which tested positive.
The driver of the pick-up was a forestry officer named Thawatchai Prasertkul, 27, and the passenger was identified as Athid Sonthiya, 27, both residents of Fang. They were arrested and taken to Chiang Dao police station to face charges.
Athid admitted that he worked in a garage in Fang District of Chiang Mai and that he and the forestry officer had jointly purchased the 230 ya ba pills from a hill tribe village in Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai, for which they had been charged 20,000 baht. Their intention was to transfer the drugs to clients in the city of Chiang Mai.


Soldier murdered during guard duty at Mae Hong Son border

Khajohn Boonphat
Private Somsak Kaewkhao, a soldier on duty at the Thai-Burmese border, was shot when he requested that a man and a woman submit to a search at a checkpoint. On discovery of the dead soldier, the military mounted an immediate search by land and air but failed to find any sign of the murderers. Officers believed that they fled over the border into Myanmar, but not before they had also robbed a local villager.
The shooting occurred on September 10, at the checkpoint near Baan Pai Song Ngae Village. The unfortunate soldier requested a man and a woman to submit to being searched. They acted as though they were willing to be searched, but the man immediately took out a shotgun and shot the officer in the head at close range.
Before running off, they took the M 16 rifle from the dead soldier and fled towards Baan Huay Haeng Village at Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son. There, they also robbed a villager at Doi Phak Kood, stealing a cell phone before crossing the border into Myanmar.
The 7th Infantry Regiment immediately dispatched search-parties by both air and land on the likely escape routes of the offenders. Forces were beefed up and put on high alert at the border area, to prevent minority troops such as Red Wa and Tai tribesmen mounting an assault.
Intelligence sources analyzed the situation and came to the opinion that the crime probably occurred because in the 2-3 days prior to the shooting, the army had searched villages at Pang Mapha and Pai districts, both areas strongly suspected of possessing drugs. Disgruntled by the military’s actions, the gang retaliated by shooting the unsuspecting soldier at the checkpoint.
This particular border checkpoint is on a route often used to transfer drugs by the SSA and UWSA troops from Doi Hua Ma and Doi Kham to Baan Doi Chang, Pai district of Mae Hong Son; so security here should be higher and the men on duty should be ordered to maintain a higher state of alertness. Their colleagues’ death should make them aware of the consequences of becoming complacent whilst on what can easily develop into a very boring duty.


Rangers clash with drug caravan

Seized 300,000 ya ba pills

Staff Reporters
A Ranger patrol recently clashed with a group of 8-9 armed soldiers of an unknown force that they caught trespassing 800 meters inside the Thai border. The Rangers challenged the group and asked them to submit to a search, but the soldiers, who were armed, not only declined to surrender, but opened fire which resulted in a 20-minute exchange of shots.
After hostilities ceased, officers found a trail of blood which led them to believe that at least one person on the other side had been wounded. However, before escaping, the soldiers had dropped their possessions and the Rangers were able to seize ya ba pills and a cache of weapons.
This incident occurred on the night of September 12, during a routine Ranger patrol at Phi Kad mountain ridge, near Phu Chee Fah, Thoeng district in Chiang Rai, in an area which lies just across the border from Baan Lor Ngern, in Laos.
Amongst the abandoned possessions, the Rangers found 300,000 orange and green ya ba pills, 4 carbine rifles and 2 Red Chinese fragmentation grenades. Although bloodstains pointed to at least one of the foreign being wounded, the Rangers reported none of their members were injured and they carried the booty back to base. Their C.O. also prepared to send additional patrols to protect the Thai border.


Entertainment venue faces closure after assault on student

Staff Reporter
Following a brutal assault that left a student in a coma for a month, Chiang Mai district chief officer, Thanin Suphasen, is reviewing reports regarding the possible closure of the venue where the attack took place.
Anuporn Phikulkheha, 21, a student at Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna was assaulted on the night of August 9 at the “See U” pub, an entertainment venue at Kad Choeng Doi, Chiang Mai. According to the law, if a pub is deemed a danger to society the owner’s license will be withdrawn.
Officers investigating the case have arrested three suspects. The pub owner, identified as Choomphon Kiatisilp, 42, has so far evaded arrest. Choomphon has offered to surrender himself, on the condition of being granted bail. Police rejected the offer and continue to trace his whereabouts. An off-duty police officer, Pol. Sgt. Denduang Srithijai or “Ja Boy” is also implicated in the assault. Officers are still investigating his role and whether he was working as a doorman at the pub at the time of the assault.
Following the accusations Pol. Sgt. Denduang has been ordered to transfer to Wiang Haeng police station near the Thai-Burmese border while the investigation takes place. If found guilty he will face legal proceedings.


Rescued goat prompts cheers from onlookers

It must’ve been a slow day in Chiang Rai

Staff Reporters
Fire fighters in Chiang Rai were called to rescue a goat after it fell into a drain. On September 12 a goat fell into a drain on Kok Thong Road after failing to notice the large hole in the drain cover.
Fire fighters initially tried to remove the goat by reaching into the drain through the hole in the drain cover. Their valiant attempts were frustrated when it became apparent that the goat would be too big to fit through the hole. To make matters worse, the goat resisted all attempts to grab him. The fire fighters then tried to drive the goat towards officers waiting at another exit to the drain by prodding it with a wooden pole, to no avail.
After several futile attempts to rescue the goat, Kamon Anurak, the owner of the animal, volunteered to climb into the drain himself. Kamon rescued the goat to the cheers of concerned onlookers. The goat is black and white and weighs about 10 kg.
Villagers in the area reported that there were a number of drain covers that had been damaged by goat herds, adding that this was not the first time a goat had fallen into the drain.


Drug dealer killed in a shoot-out with police

Nopniwat Krailerg
Whilst trying to avoid arrest, a drug dealer allegedly drew a pistol and fired at the arresting officers. The police officers returned fire and in the brief exchange of shots, the drug dealer was fatally hit by two bullets in the chest and died immediately.
The shooting happened on the night of September 10 while officers of Chai Prakan police station, Chiang Mai were on their security patrol on Chai Prakan-Phrao Road, Baan Huay Muang, Sri Dong Yen sub-district. The officers noticed a suspicious blue Isuzu pick-up truck carrying 2 passengers. When the officers pulled the vehicle over to the roadside to be checked, the driver escaped from the vehicle and shot at the policemen with a Thai-made pistol.
Officers returned fire and 2 shots penetrated the driver’s chest, killing him. During the exchange of fire, the passenger managed to escape into the darkness.
The police checked the dead man’s I.D. card and he was identified as Wicharn Kaewwichian, 44, a resident of Lampang. A search of the vehicle revealed 9,800 orange ya ba pills hidden under the driver’s seat, which the officers seized as evidence.
Wicharn’s police rap-sheet recorded the fact that he had served time in Phetchabun in 1996 and had also been penalized for possessing an illegal pistol in 2005.
Officers impounded all the evidence and coordinated with the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) to make further enquiries and endeavor to trace this drug network.