HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Air quality improves but burning continues

No more money and lawsuits add to legal quagmire

Mayor’s Office confirms Songkran set for April 12-17

We were curious to know

29 burned to death in bus accident

15,000 seek treatment in Mae Hong Son

300 million in antiques seized

Don Muang Airport back in business

Put a cow in your tank

Four foreigners busted for pedophilia

Border clashes lead to tightened security

Air quality improves but burning continues

CMM Reporters/TNA

Soldiers from the Army’s 12th Calvary Battalion, The Thai Royal Air Force, the employees of the Office of Disaster Prevention and thousands of volunteers joined in to extinguish the thousands of fires that have polluted the skies over Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son since the beginning of the month.

Provincial authorities estimate there are still upwards of 4000 fires burning or smoldering in the three provinces that were declared disaster zones by the Government of Thailand last week.

Government officials in Bangkok are considering removing the three affected provinces from the emergency disaster zones, according to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Social Development and Human Security Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham.

Mr. Paiboon, who also heads the smoke response program for the disaster areas, said the situation has improved and the haze blanketing northern Thailand has thinned in the past week due to better weather and the cooperation of agencies concerned.

Chiang Mai Deputy Mayor Praphan said that the municipality has been distributing some 70,000 face masks and air filters with plans hand out an additional 30,000 if needed in the coming days.

Though local statistics have not yet been compiled it is estimated that the number of people sickened by the polluted air will reach into the thousands. In Mae Hong Son province, over 15,000 have sought medical help. (See story on page 2).

The air quality index monitored by the Pollution Control Board has shown a steady decline in air contaminants and the improvement has been attributed to the decrease of fires being set to clear brush.

From a dangerous level of dust particles reaching 303 micrograms per cubic meter registered on March 14, the levels dropped to a healthier number of 64 at the time of this printing.

The Thai Royal Air Force planes are still flying over Chiang Mai dropping tons of water in an effort to reduce the choking smoke. This was the first time the Royal Air Force was used in this type of operation. A C-130 and a BT-67 were loaded with thousands of gallons of water to then be dispersed in the air over Chiang Mai.

In addition, airplanes from the Artificial Rain Making Center are also carrying out flights using chemicals to seed clouds in an effort to produce much needed rain over the city and surrounding areas

Worried about the negative effect on the local tourism business and a decline in arriving visitors, Chiang Mai Deputy Governor Wilas Rujiwatthanapong will be issuing an official letter to the consulates in the city and to all embassies in Bangkok detailing the current situation and the improvements that have been made in the past week to combat the pollution.

The US Consulate General in Chiang Mai has posted a “message alert” on their website stating “American citizens living in or visiting northern Thailand need to take appropriate health-related precautions due to the unhealthy air quality northern Thailand is currently experiencing.”

No more money and lawsuits add to legal quagmire

No end in sight

Saksit Meesubkwang

Parked cranes on the stopped construction site of the underpass at Kuang Sing intersection.

Financial troubles have been plaguing construction work on the underpasses at Kuang Sing and Juvenile Court junctions on the locally known Superhighway. Liquidity issues with the private contractor hired to manage the work have halted construction because the Krung Thai Bank has refused to release additional monies needed.

Jirathep Partnership was the original private contractor for the two underpasses in question, Kuang Sing and Juvenile Court on Highway 11 crossing Highway 107. Terms of the contract stated that the company would face a fine of 150,000 baht per day if the work was not completed by the expiration date of April 10, 2006, but these payments have not been made.

Noparat Aiempanit, the engineer controlling the 2 construction projects, has stated that it was not the fault of the contractor as they were ready and willing to do the work, but were forced to wait for budget approval from Krung Thai Bank, after they requested an additional 150 million baht loan. He claims the bank approved the loan, but insisted the contractor provide assets valued at 20 million baht as collateral before releasing the funds.

Noparat went on to say that Jirathep Partnership were not in possession of the necessary assets to guarantee the loan and so were unable to receive the monies to continue the work for which they were hired. In January of this year, the contractor was able to acquire some materials to continue the construction, but by the end of March they had only completed an additional 2 or 3 percent of the work – far below the target of 16 percent progression.

Jirathep Partnership shut down construction on February 5; and has not done any work since that time. Krung Thai Bank, who had agreed to provide financing for the two projects, must find a new contractor to complete this project. They believe that this would happen within the next 6 months.

The underpass at Kuang Sing Junction is now 70 percent complete and the underpass at Juvenile Court Junction is at 65 percent completion. Approximately180 million baht is still remaining from the original budget to complete the two projects.

Jirathep Partnership intends to sue the Department of Highways and ask for arbitration to settle the fines. Noparat said he believes that none of this will affect the project going forward. Krung Thai Bank is still looking for a new private contractor to complete the work as scheduled.

The construction engineer added that if no new contractor were found in the next six months, the Department of Highways would use the remaining budget to continue construction themselves, and sue Krung Thai Bank for damages and for any surplus funds needed to complete the project. It would then be up to Krung Thai Bank to sue Jirathep Partnership to recover its losses.

Not to be lost in all this, is that while construction starts and stops, and various agencies sue each other, the one constant is that motorists in the area continue to be burdened with incomplete underpasses, traffic snarls, parked cranes and dangerous debris being blown onto the roads.

Mayor’s Office confirms Songkran set for April 12-17

A comment made earlier last week by Chiang Mai Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn suggesting Songkran be moved forward to April 1 was only an idea he believed would help improve the air quality in the city.

The official starting date for Songkran is April 12 and will continue through April 17.

Full coverage of the annual event including details of the Moat roads being closed to all vehicles will appear in next weeks ChiangMai Mail.

We were curious to know

CMM Reporters

58 people were arrested and fined for burning of garbage during the month of February in Chiang Mai. Each was fined 2,000 baht. Numbers for the month of March will be available in April.

Praphan Buranupakorn, Chiang Mai Deputy Mayor for Public Health Work has urged all related officials to strictly perform their duties and campaign to help reduce the number of cases related to indiscriminate burning. If there is resistance, the officials must enforce the law and regulations.

29 burned to death in bus accident

The board of the state-owned Transport Company may revoke the license of a bus operator after its Bangkok-Ubon Ratchathani bus caught fire last Tuesday, burning 29 passengers alive and leaving 31 others injured.

According to the initial investigation, the accident was caused by the driver’s ‘human error’, as he reportedly knew the brakes failed to work properly but didn’t inform the company to find another bus to transport passengers.

The bus, traveling from the northeastern province of Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok, caught fire in Saraburi.

Piyapan Jampasut, deputy permanent secretary of the ministry of transport, will chair a Transport Co. board meeting to consider punishment for the Srisanguan Yanyon Company. It may revoke the company’s license if it is shown to have a record of careless accidents in the past.

Transport Co.director Wutthichart Kanlayanamitr ordered the Srisanguen Yanyon to halt its Bangkok-Ubon Ratchathani service for one week.

Mr. Wuttichart said the Transport Co. Ltd. will initially pay 10,000 baht to each victim or their family. Then the victims will receive compensation from the operator’s insurance provider and the government, totaling 400,000 baht for each death and 250,000 baht for each of the injured.

He asked other travelers not to be frightened, explaining that the Department of Land Transport normally checks public buses when owners renew their licenses. (TNA)

15,000 seek treatment in Mae Hong Son

Khajohn Boonpath

The air quality index in Mae Hong Son has improved in recent days but dust particles remain at an unhealthy. The Pollution Control Board recorded 166 micrograms per cubic meter at the time of this printing down from 284 micrograms per cubic meter last week.

A nurse at a Mae Hong Son hospital provides treatment to one of the thousands affected by the smoke in that province.

The thick smoke that has covered much of the province has had a devastating effect on the residents with 15,000 people seeking medical treatment in the past two weeks.

Dr. Suwat Kittidilokkul of the Provincial Public Health Office of Mae Hong Son has warned that the elderly and children should remain indoors until the health hazard has subsided.

Nok Air and Thai Airlines flights to and from Mae Hong Son have also been disrupted over the past two weeks as the polluted skies have prevented them from using the airport. At last count 24 flights had been cancelled due to poor visibility.

This past week the Royal Thai Air Force could not conduct water drops over the city as visibility was so poor it presented a danger for the flyovers.

Drugstores and pharmacies have been inundated with customers seeking medicine and face masks. But while these shops have seen an increase in business it is estimated that tourism related businesses will lose up to 10 million baht due to the pollution and health hazards.

At least 100 firefighters in Mae Hong Son and an additional 100 firemen from Fire Control Units from Northeastern region of the country are still battling forest fires but extinguishing them has proved more difficult as many of them are burning in remote areas and mountain tops.

In an effort to educate the residents of Mae Hong Son province, the Governor has taken to the airwaves asking for cooperation from everyone and demanding a halt to the setting of fires.

300 million in antiques seized

CMM Reporters

Mae Sai Custom’s officials seized Burmese antiques worth more than 300 million baht that were to be sold illegally at a border town market.

Authorities display the 300 million baht worth of smuggled antiques seized on the Thai-Myanmar border. (CMM Photo)

The haul of 370 items included marble Buddha images, wooden crafts, and head parts of the Buddha images made from good grade marble.

Chuchai Udomphote, the chief of Mae Sai Customs Office in Chiang Rai and his control and suppression team were tipped off about where the smuggled goods would be making their way into Thailand. The alleged smugglers were caught at the Kalam river landing area in Mae Sai bordering between Thailand and Burma in Tambon Mae Sai. Chief Chuchai did not say how many alleged smugglers had been arrested.

Mae Sai Custom’s officials said that the identification and inspection of the seized items would be performed by antiques experts while authorities are still trying to determine if any of the smuggled goods were obtained legally in Myanmar or if they had been stolen. Customs officials from Myanmar are cooperating in this investigation.

Don Muang Airport back in business

Don Muang Airport re-opened for domestic flights last Sunday with three airlines shifting their services from Suvarnabhumi Airport back to Don Muang.

The three airlines that will initially operate from Don Muang are Thai Airways, Nok Air (a subsidiary of Thai) and Orient Thai Airlines.

The three airlines will offer 140 daily flights transporting 18,000 passengers. Should additional airlines return their operations to Don Muang in the future, the airport would be ready to accommodate their needs.

Recently decommissioned Don Muang was reopened to help alleviate congestion at the new airport while repairs are carried out.

The domestic terminal will be the main terminal at Don Muang and will accommodate 5 million passengers annually.

A sixth month evaluation will take place and the study will then determine if international flights should also use Don Muang in the future.

Flight Lieutenant Pinit Saraithong, Don Muang’s general manager, said all facilities are operational, including parking lots, taxi service, restaurants and souvenir shops.

The first four commercial flights to return to Don Muang Airport were Thai flight TG 1020 Bangkok-Ubon Ratchathani, Nok Air flights DD 9200 Bangkok-Udon Thani, DD7804 Bangkok-Nakhon Si Thammarat and DD 7102 Bangkok-Hat Yai.

Passengers should note that the airport code of Don Muang Airport has changed from BKK to DMK. (TNA)

Put a cow in your tank

Groundbreaking research turns cow’s fat into a new diesel fuel

Saksit Meesubkwang

After years of research cow’s fat can now be processed into fuel

For many years, Chiang Mai University (CMU) has been at the forefront of biological research to find new solutions to today’s problems. They have just announced their latest accomplishment, the development of a new bio diesel formula using cow’s fat as the raw material. This new bio -diesel fuel can be used in exactly the same way as regular diesel, without the harmful effects to the environment.

Initially, CMU officials and staff tested the fuel in their vehicles. After noting the positive results, CMU’s director expects CMU will become a bio diesel demonstration and development centre. There is also the potential for Chiang Mai University to be a regional hub for the development of renewable energy, and to publicize their findings to the international community.

Associate Professor Prasert Ruekriangkrai, Director of the Energy Management and Conservation Center at Chiang Mai University, revealed the progress of their research and announced the creation of a bio diesel production machine (CMU-3) that can produce bio diesel from cow’s fat.

This machine was developed from the research and development of the Mechanical Engineering Department. The experimental work began in 2001 with a small 1-liter model. From that initial machine, they built a much larger version (CMU-2) that could produce 150 liters per cycle. This led to the latest model, the CMU-3.

The CMU-3 can produce 500 liters of diesel fuel per cycle. The production process consumes 12 hours and costs 18 baht per liter to produce. The professor guaranteed that the quality was identical to that of traditional diesel fuel.

Associate Professor Prasert added that the bio diesel production from animal’s fat uses the same process as bio diesel production from used vegetable oil and animal oil. The difference is only the material and the reaction process.

He stated that this new fuel poses no danger to normal engines. The CMU-3 fuel is now available for government officials and internal staff’ vehicles. This pilot project could help save energy and money and be a noteworthy response to the Government’s policy to turn to substituted, renewable, or alternative energy. Once the pilot project is complete, the fuel will be made available to the country’s communities to help nationwide.

Associate Professor Prasert added that they were expanding their research by opening more training courses to produce the bio diesel. Participants will build a bio diesel machine that can produce fuel from used vegetable oil and animal’s oil. The project is supported by the National Energy Policy and Planning Office of the Ministry of Energy in Thailand.

For more information, people who are interested in bio diesel production can ask for more details or apply for the bio diesel training course at the Energy Management and Conservation Center. The courses will train 3 groups of 6 – 8 students per week. 300 people have already been trained, and there are only 200 seats remaining for new applicants.

For further details, please contact the Energy Management and Conservation Center of Chiang Mai University, Tel. 053-972007-9 ext.106 Monday-Friday 8.00 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.

Four foreigners busted for pedophilia

Boonlua Chatree

Four foreign men have been charged with having sex with children following a police sweep conducted on a single day, March 19, by Pol Maj Gen Kamronwit Thupkrajang, commander-in-chief of the Division for the Suppression of Crimes against Children, Juveniles and Women.

Police investigations had revealed the identities of four foreign pedophiles currently active in Pattaya, and arrest warrants were applied for at Pattaya Provincial Court. The warrants were granted on March 18.

Officers searched a house in South Pattaya on March 19 and arrested Maurice John Praill, a 76-year-old British national. He was charged with sexual activities against children under the age of 15. Praill denied all the charges, but he was taken to the police station for further questioning. Police said that prior to this charge, Praill had been arrested for sexually abusing two girls, aged 13 and 14, in Pattaya in the year 2000, and was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. On that occasion he was released on bail, and the case is still in process. In 1997, Praill was arrested for sexual offences against a 14-year-old boy when a suspicious police officer followed and caught him with his pants around his ankles, and in an agitated state, with the young boy behind a popular shopping mall. He was fined and released.

Also on March 19, 2007, at around noon, officers from the Suppression of Crimes against Children, Juveniles and Women Division searched a house near the Hanumarn Roundabout in Jomtien and arrested Ilkka Antero Ylikojola, age 63, a Finnish national. He was charged with sexual activity against children under 15 years of age. Police searched the premises and found a video camera, digital camera, VCDs, and a recording device. They said there were records of Ylikojola involved in sexual activity with children.

Police said a girl was brought into Ylikojola’s house by a woman known only as Mon. Mon had met the girl at the Royal Garden Plaza on the second floor and asked her to come along on a motorcycle to have her photograph taken. At the house the girl was asked to take a bath. Ylikojola then took photographs and a video of her, and asked her to dance and perform lewd acts in front of the camera. He paid her 1,000 baht and another 500 baht to Mon, who sat in another room waiting for about 30 minutes until Ylikojola had finished.

The third arrest was that of Stephen James Ellison, a British national age 55. Police confiscated a computer, CDs, and digital and video cameras. Police said the equipment showed pictures of him engaging in sexual activity with children aged under 15 years.

The fourth arrest took place at the Mark-Land Hotel, on the 24th floor. Glenn Richard Allen, age 60, an American national, was charged with sexual activity with children aged under 15 years. Police seized a computer, CDs, and digital and video cameras as evidence.

Police said that those arrested had paid between 500 and 3,000 baht to children between the ages of 11 and 15 for sexual activity and for picture and video recording. A police spokesman said that they now know who the procurers were and are searching for them.

Border clashes lead to tightened security

Thai ranger killed

Following clashes on the border provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son, both Thai and Myanmar armies have placed their border units on full alert, according to Thai and Shan sources.

Thai officials in Tak province have tightened security around the clock after the Myanmar-based Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) reportedly threatened to burn down a Thai police station in Tak’s Pobphra district.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is the military wing of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization (DKBO) which split from the Karen National Union (KNU), the largest and oldest of Myanmar’s insurgent groups.

Thai villagers closed the border after some DKBA forces crossed the border into Thai side and began shooting at cattle in Banwalley village.

Closing the border led to disgruntlement on the part of the DKBA forces, who reportedly have threatened to torch the Pobphra district police station, located 15 kilometres away from the border.

In Mae Hong Son province, a clash between Thai Army Rangers and an unknown armed group occurred at Banhuayfan village in Khunyuem district last Wednesday night.

Ranger volunteer Chertsak Thranunthawitthaya was killed in the clash.

Thai authorities have reinforced border patrols to prevent a repeat of the incursion.

Thai army sources have pointed fingers at Haiwo (Heho) based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 117, commanded by Maj Ye Tun, one of the 10 battalions under the command of Brig-Gen Aye Khaing, Commander of the Kalaw-based Light Infantry Division (LID) 55. (TNA/ Shan Herald Agency/ CMM Reporters)