NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai and Northern provinces suffering from environmental disaster

Governor gets tough in smoky Mae Hong Son

Chiang Rai declared a disaster zone

Wife hired men to kill her American husband, murder suspect tells police

Anything to declare?

US may place Thailand on special piracy watch list

Chiang Mai and Northern provinces suffering from environmental disaster

Air contaminants receding but still at dangerous levels Military planes shower tons of water over Chiang Mai

CMM Reporters/TNA/AP
The air quality in Chiang Mai has improved slightly in the past three days but experts say the levels are still at dangerous levels and they will remain at high levels throughout this week. According to Permanent Secretary for Public Health Dr. Prat Boonyawongvirot, about 1.5 million people are experiencing health problems forcing thousands to seek treatment in hospitals and clinics in the Northern provinces.

A Buddhist monk braving the elements in downtown Chiang Mai. (AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu)
Manuals on self-care and caring for families in such polluted environments have been distributed to residents throughout the north, he said.
Paisal Kuvalairat, spokesman of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said some 6,000 hot spots were being tracked by aerial reconnaissance in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lampoon and Phayao.
On Friday Primer Minister Surayud Chulanont visited Chiang Mai to personally inspect the military’s efforts to reduce the haze that has affected residents in three Northern provinces for over two weeks.
On Saturday four specially adapted military planes flew over Chiang Mai dropping tons of water in an attempt to dissipate some of the smoke brought on by out of control forest and brush fires.
Authorities said the level of tiny dust particles reached as high as 383 micrograms per cubic meter last Wednesday, the worst since the smoky skies began to cover the city on March 1. The Pollution Control Department says less than 50 micrograms per cubic meter is “good,” while up to 100 is “acceptable” air quality. More than 200 micrograms per cubic meter can “seriously affect your health” and anything over 300 is considered “dangerous.” Saturday’s air quality level reading indicated a drop to 176 in Chiang Mai, while Chiang Rai registered a level of 169 and Mae Hong Son at 240 micrograms per cubic meter.

A motorcyclist covers up to avoid breathing in contaminants. (AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu)
The Pollution Control Department’s level readings can be accessed through their website in English at: http://www.pcd.go.th/indexEng.cfm
The reduction of airborne dust particles may be attributed to public awareness of this environmental crisis.
The dry weather has fueled forest fires that have mixed with pollution to cast an eye-stinging, throat-burning haze. People suffering from allergies, asthma, lung and heart diseases are urged to wear masks and to stay indoors with the windows closed until the polluted skies diminish. Pregnant women, senior citizens and children were advised to wear face masks.
According to local health officials based on an initial evaluation, the number of patients suffering from respiratory diseases had increased by 10-20 per cent in the past week, compared to the same period last year. Ninety per cent of these patients were out-patients.
The Health Ministry said it has requested the help of 100,000 volunteers to go door to door in Chiang Mai and distribute 130,000 masks.
Area residents have already been barred from burning their garbage, a common practice in the city and surrounding areas, said Prachon Panchakul, chief of the disaster prevention and mitigation center in Chiang Mai province. They have recommended burying instead of burning dry leaves and garbage.
“Before, we called for people’s cooperation, but now we are strictly ordering them to stop open-air burning,” he said. Signs posted around Chiang Mai warned that violators could face fines of up to 2,000 baht.
The Chiang Mai International Airport has also been affected by the pollution as several airlines were forced to cancel or divert flights this past week due to poor visibility.
A leading think tank in Bangkok, Kasikorn Research Centre, reported that the polluted environment in Chiang Mai is having a direct impact both on public health and local economic activities, particularly tourism and related services.
Their report projected a reduction in the amount of currency in circulation in tourism and related services in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son in March and April by about Bt2 billion (about US$65.5 million) or 25 per cent of the total.
It said the smaller number of tourists would lead to a decline in spending in March and April during which there are long holidays and festivals such as Songkran or the Thai New Year.
In neighboring Nan Province, Dr. Pisit Sriprasert at Nan’s provincial hospital said about 160 patients a day is seeking medical help.
Nan forest fire control Chief Muangman Kerdnana said the seasonal fires were expected to be critical due to severe drought conditions. His firefighters are prepared to work around the clock, but are short of necessary equipment for the numbers of workers needed.
Meanwhile firefighting airplanes and attempts to induce rain in Chiang Mai by cloud-seeding have so far failed to extinguish many of the fires in the area.
Despite the little success in clearing the smoke, the royal rain-making operations center will continue operations with two additional planes supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. A special technique will be applied as well. In addition to chemicals, 500 liters of water will be sprayed during each flight to increase airborne moisture. The rain-making operations are expected to result in success next week when the moisture in the air is higher.
The Thai government has warned that the haze could persist until April and has instructed officials to monitor the situation closely until at least the month of June, said government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarb.


Governor gets tough in smoky Mae Hong Son

Kajohn Boonpath
Mae Hong Son Governor Direk Konkreep ordered the supervisor of the Land Reservation Office removed from his post after he apparently allowed forest burning in the city.

A child needing oxygen to breath in Mae Hong Son Hospital.
At a press conference at the governor’s residence, the Governor signed an order to remove Isara Anurakpongsathon, the chief of the Provincial Land Development Office. Subsequently the Provincial Land Development office will submit the order to Isara’s superiors to have him removed out of Mae Hong Son provincial area.
The dense smoke covering the city and surrounding areas are the product of indiscriminate setting of forest fires and brush clearing.
Residents of Mae Hong Song have been seeking treatment at the local hospital with some children and elderly needing oxygen to relieve breathing.
The Governor said the smoke from the forest fires has increased to such a degree that the two airlines that serve the city have faced delays due to poor visibility.
The fires have also raged out of control causing the destruction of three homes and a loss of 1 million baht to the home owners.
Despite the threat of fines and arrest the forest fires continue in the region and will no doubt negatively affect the health conditions and tourism outlook for Mae Hong Song.

A mother comforting her sick child.

Indiscriminate burning harming everyone.


Chiang Rai declared a disaster zone

The Chiang Rai province was declared a disaster zone as embattled provincial and other agencies confront raging brush and forest fires throughout the region.
Traditionally, before the rains and at the end of the hot or dry season, local farmers in the mountains burn off the preceding season’s accumulation of vegetation to provide nutrients for the soil.
This year the region has been especially dry and the fires have spread out of control.
Together with burn-off fires moving east and south from neighboring Myanmar’s Shan State, Chiang Rai residents are suffering from choking smoke, clogged with dust and micro-particles of partially-burned wood, leaves and other vegetation fed by the fires.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has recruited personnel to attempt to extinguish the blazes and special clinics may be set up on location to care for persons affected by the smoke and pollution.
The local authorities, including officials of the Public Health Ministry, the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, have issued warnings prohibiting local villagers from attempting to clear weeds and undergrowth by setting them on fire.
Hopes for artificial rain by cloud seeding have all but diminished as the lack of humidity in the air has prevented any much needed dousing over the entire north. (TNA and CMM Reporters.)


Wife hired men to kill her American husband, murder suspect tells police

The two murder suspects presented before the local media.

Two Thai men in Chiang Mai have been arrested for the killing last year of a U.S. expatriate businessman living in Hang Dong. One of the suspects claimed he was hired by the victim’s wife, police said.
The body of John LaChapelle, 43, was found shot to death on Sep. 29, 2006 in the Hang Dong district of Chiang Mai province. After a lengthy investigation, Suphap Nokham, 48, and Suchin Chusaengroj, 28, were arrested for the killing, said police Lt. Col. Suvit Panyo. Both have been charged with premeditated murder, which carries a maximum penalty of death.
The police said that Suchin confessed that he was hired to arrange the murder by the victim’s Lao-French-American wife, believed to be living in the U.S. and that he hired Suphap as the gunman. LaChapelle ran an import-export company in Hang Dong, Suvit said.
At the time of his death, LaChapelle’s was being sued for fraud by a business partner who claimed he had cheated him out of a large amount of money.
Police have asked the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to investigate the whereabouts of LaChapelle’s wife and if there are sufficient grounds to believe that she was involved in the murder, Suvit added. (AP and CMM Reporters.)


Anything to declare?

Only 2 elephants, officer

It’s usually drugs and human trafficking the Thai border authorities have to deal with day to day. This time they were in for a surprise when they spotted two elephants being smuggled across from Myanmar on a rickety boat.

The smuggled elephants will be cared for by the Forestry Department.
Five men were arrested after being caught red-handed with their large load and face long prison terms in found guilty.
The men and beasts, a 1-year-old calf and a female adult, entered Thailand by boat after a trip across the Salween River from Myanmar, said Preecha Chalermpichai, the head forest ranger in the border district of Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Song Province, where the group disembarked.
The suspects, identified as three Thais and two men from Myanmar, face up to 15 years in prison on charges of elephant trafficking.
The seized elephants were taken to a protected forest area in Mae Sariang, where they will remain in the custody of the forest department pending the trial of the suspected traffickers, Preecha said.
Animal rights groups have long said that many elephants used at Thailand’s circuses and at camps that provide elephant rides to tourists have been smuggled in from Myanmar. (AP and CMM Staff.)


US may place Thailand on special piracy watch list

The US government may place Thailand on its special watch list next month, claiming rampant piracy of intellectual property.
Puangrat Assawapisit, Director-General of the Intellectual Property Department, revealed that five private-sector groups including music and movies, clothes, pharmaceuticals, cable television and books in the US have complained that Thailand failed to control piracy of intellectual property.
Rather than limiting or containing existing piracy, the groups concluded that the practice appeared to be growing and is becoming rampant.
“There is a mounting concern that Thailand might be put on a US special watch list instead of the watch list which it is placed at present,” Mrs. Puangrat said, adding that her department would coordinate with agencies concerned this month to accelerate a response to the US that Thailand has not been indifferent in coping with intellectual property piracy.
“At present, many groups of Thai producers are worried that the US will place Thailand in its special watch list instead of a watch list for its failure to address the intellectual property piracy.” stated Mrs. Puangrat.
“Now, no one can tell that whether the US will put Thailand on its special watch list. But if Thailand is placed on the list, many Thai export products shipped to the US will be hard hit.” she added.
Earlier this year, Mrs. Puangrat said, the department had submitted a written clarification to the US Embassy in Bangkok contesting what American authorities call Thailand’s failure to cope efficiently with intellectual property piracy. (TNA) and CMM Staff.