HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Songkran approaches as authorities prepare for the worst

Polluted skies still around-tourist numbers down

The polluted air we breathe

Songkran official events program in Chiang Mai

Myanmar national desecrates Thai flag

Border shutdown at Mae Hong Son

Panda not interested in porn

40 million baht loot stolen in Hang Dong

Chiang Mai not prepared for major earthquake

ASEAN Finance Ministers meet in Chiang Mai

Songkran approaches as authorities prepare for the worst

Everyone wants to have fun during Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration and water festival yet the facts and figures relating to accidents and deaths expected are a chilling reminder of how dangerous this event can be.

Rescue units, police and local authorities staged a mock accident on the Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai road as a drill to prepare their employees for the numerous road accidents expected during the days of Songkran.

Nationwide authorities expect up to 400 deaths during Songkran, most in road accidents and approximately 40,000 Songkran related injuries.

Police in Chiang Mai and the surrounding districts will set up check-points at major intersections as of April 11 in an attempt to detain drunk drivers.

The Public Health Minister, Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla, will dispatch more than 30,000 medical personnel and public health officials together with ambulances to provide 24 hour medical attention to people in need during the Songkran Festival.

The Permanent Secretary for Public Health, Dr. Prat Boonyawongwirote, said that the Ministry of Public Health has told hospitals and clinics nationwide not to let their physicians and nurses go on a holiday during Songkran.

Meanwhile The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare is calling for all employers to give their employees 5 days off during the Songkran Festival this year.

Director-General of the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare, Padungsak Thephasdin na Ayutthaya said this year’s official Songkran Festival will start as of April 13th through the 15th. As April 14th and 15th coincide on a weekend, the government requires employers to extend the Songkran holiday by two days until April 17th.

The National Emergency Health Services hotline number is 1669. CMM Reporters.

Polluted skies still around-tourist numbers down

Saksit Meeesubkwang

The air pollution in Chiang Mai continues to affect hotel businesses, as well as the entire local travel industry.

Mr. Narong, President of Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce explaining the facts.

Tourists fearing the hazardous effects of the poor air quality have stayed away as the number of visitors who have cancelled their bookings is running as high as 20 to 30%.

Ms. Watcharaporn Chongpowpan, Marketing Director of Chiang Mai Orchids Hotel, revealed that many tourist groups who had booked their rooms for 5 days had now asked to shorten their stays to only 2 days.

Business convention and meeting groups have also cancelled their programs, and even long-term visitors are down by 30% compared to their numbers before the crisis. Most have opted to travel to Phuket and Pattaya.

In addition, tourists fear that the pollution may linger through the Songkran water festival as hotel bookings citywide are already much lower for the Thai New Year celebrations.

Narong Thananuwat, President of Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, admitted that hotels, condotels, and businesses in Chiang Mai have been affected by the polluted air covering Chiang Mai for the past 20 days.

Long-term foreign businessmen have explained that they usually like the weather and atmosphere in Chiang Mai, but the pollution has forced them to change their plans until the problem is reversed.

When tourists cancel hotel rooms it affects the airline industry, restaurants, entertainment venues and shopping outlets. All have seen a slowdown in sales since the skies over Chiang Mai became a health hazard.

Narong said that the problem must be alleviated as soon as possible in order to restore confidence in the tourist industry. The government should seriously explore the problem and plan a long-term solution. Moreover, creating understanding by giving the real facts and information to tourists and visitors is also important. If the situation is not resolved quickly, Chiang Mai tourism will worsen to a critical level.

The polluted air we breathe

Should we worry?

The smoggy, grayish haze that has spread over Chiang Mai and many other provinces of northern Thailand and neighboring countries has been viewed differently by academics who have conducted research related to air pollution.

Experts are concerned about the health impact from the amount of PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 microns – a micron is approximately 1 to 60 the size of human hair cross-section) that exceed 2 to 3 times the allowable amount of 120 micrograms per cubic meters in 24 hours. The standard level, set by the Pollution Control Department, does not mean a “safe” level but the level that a human body can endure. Therefore, if the amount of PM10 exceeds the allowable amount, it is health hazard and can be life threatening, especially those who already have chronic symptoms of respiratory problem and heart disease. Elderly people whose bodies are frail and small children are most at risk and are greater exposed to sickness. Depression and stress is also a key factor during these times of pollution.

Reports from the Ministry of Health, released by the Northern Thailand Haze Prevention Center, show that 10,654 patients have been affected by the haze problem during March 16-25. Death records due to the haze problem are still unknown. Moreover, many hotels, spas and related business have lost 30-100% of customers which has had a serious impact on the city’s economy.

For many businesses the pollution has reduced their income which had risen many, many hundred of percents during the 3 months of the Royal Flora exhibition and they want to continue to bring in the same amounts during that boost of tourism in Chiang Mai.

Even though the Chiang Mai Department of Health and Chiang Mai University have warned and given guidelines what to do and not do when the PM10 level is high, many people continue to exercise outdoor as if nothing has happened. Among those who exercise regularly are top level academics in several fields; thus, reflecting their misperception of the smog problem.

For government officials and local agencies, the smog has forced them work harder. They see the haze problem as an obstruction to tourism, but not so much as health hazard. Their vision of protecting tourist businesses reflects in their press releases stating that Chiang Mai air is clean but in fact the air is still far from acceptable levels. Besides, the continued haze problems could cost them career advancements. That was why they quickly declared their province was no longer in the state of emergency.

Some local residents think it’s just haze that we confront every year, after the first rain it will go away. Why worry? Why should they stop burning leaves and garbage, or burning their fields, it has been practiced by their ancestors for a long time. Some well-known academics get very angry saying that the poor are always blamed for leading their traditional way of living, and point the finger to the rich who use cars, live and work in air-conditioned rooms.

In fact all pollution sources, including smoking cigarettes contribute to the critical haze problem we now confront. General open burning, traffic fumes, and other air hazards occur daily; however, the fires on the mountains are seasonal. Unfortunately, the hill tribes and local people have been the scapegoat for the burning on highland areas. The farmers will normally only burn their fields a little before it rains in late April and early May. Haze problems in late February and March are the product of some groups whose intentions are unknown.

The fact is pollution is a threat to our life supporting system. Air is the necessity for human, animals and plants. We can fast up to a month, we can stop drinking up to many days, but we cannot stop breathing. Our breathing is so automatic and we do not realize that we breathe in and out; as a result, we never pay attention to our breathing, let alone the quality of the air we in take. Although breathing clean and smoke free air is basic human rights, it has not been put on the agenda of human rights activists.

Haze, if it is prolonged, will not only affect our health now and in the near future, but it will greatly affect the photosynthesis of plants and trees. Therefore, haze is also a threat to our food security. Dr. Wanarak Wongsaikaew, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Chiang Mai University discovered that a kind of lichen that can withstand urban air, commonly used as a bio-indicator in England, has begun to bleach at its edge in many areas in Chiang Mai-Lampun valley. The bleaching means they are dying and a warning sign of things to come. This is only one bio-indicator; there may be more if we investigate further. If haze affects the lichen’s life, it may affect our lives too.

Submitted by Dr. Duongchan Apavatjrut Charoenmuang, PhD. Researcher at the Social Research Insitute at Chiang Mai University.

Songkran official events program in Chiang Mai

April 11-12 - Local singing contest at Three Kings Monument from 6-10pm.

April 12 – Food offerings to Buddhist monks - Alms and Merit making celebration of Chiang Mai’s 711th Anniversary at the Three Kings Monument from 6-8am.

April 11-15 - Jour and Tung Festival at Wat Intakhin from 9am-10pm.

April 11-16 - An exhibition and religious ceremonies at Wat Sri Supan 9am–10pm

April 11-15 - Singing contests at Wat Phra Singh from 7-10pm.

April 10-15 - Miss Friendship contest, Miss Songkran at ThaPae Gate from 7pm.

April 15 - Merit Making for Thai New Year at ThaPae Gate from 6-8 a.m.

April 15 - Parade begins at Nawarat Bridge to ThaPae Gate from 7-12am.

For more details call 053-248-604 or visit

Myanmar national desecrates Thai flag

Khajohn Bonpath

A Myanmar national from Shan state was arrested by Thai police on April 2 for destroying the Thai national flag and damaging Thai office buildings.

Mr. Yee being confined at Mae Hong Son police station.

Mae Hong Son Police charged Mr. Yee with cutting the flag at the Offices of Customs and Immigration, located on the Thai – Myanmar border, opposite the Ban Huay Pueng border pass in Tambon Huaypha.

The suspect admitted the act and said his motive was to raise awareness so that international organizations would get involved to stop human rights violations in Myanmar. The arrested man, Mr. Yee (family name unknown), is a 39-year-old resides in Ban Namakpin, Tambon Pangmoo, Mae Hong Son.

Police said that they were informed that a man from Ban Namon, Myanmar had caused the damage after entering Thailand illegally. The police then inspected 4 damaged windows and the Thai flag that had been cut into small pieces.

Meanwhile, Thai special task forces of the 7th infantry regiment coordinated with Major Jai, the Deputy Governor of Special 4th Myanmar government zone, to help pressure the assailant and send him back to Thailand for trial. He was arrested while hiding at his sister’s house at Ban Na Makpin, Mae Hong Son.

Mr. Yee asserted he committed the crimes because he wanted to call for help in stopping the human rights violations inside Myanmar, and asked for more help from Thai authorities on the border to look after Thai Yai/Shan State people who are being oppressed by Myanmar authorities. He continues to hope that his actions will bring more awareness from the public.

Border shutdown at Mae Hong Son

Khajohn Boonpath

The Governor of Mae Hong Son has ordered its border crossings with Myanmar closed in a response to intrusions by soldiers from Myanmar.

Governor Direk Kornkleep’s decision came after repeated border clashes that began on March 29 and resulted in the death of a Thai volunteer Ranger who apparently was killed by artillery fire.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted a letter of protest to the Ambassador of Myanmar in Bangkok while officials in Mae Hong Son province along with Special Force of 7th Infantry Regiment sent another letter conveying their dissatisfaction to the Myanmar government.

The porous Thai-Myanmar border has historically been the site of clashes, incursions and disputes ending in temporary closures for travel and trade.

The Governor of Mae Hong Son has not stipulated how long the border crossings in his province will be closed and the government of Myanmar has not stated when or if they will submit a formal apology to the Thai government for the apparent incursions.

Panda not interested in porn

After panda porn failed to spark amour, Chiang Mai zoo authorities turned to artificial insemination in the hope of impregnating their lone female giant panda.

Lin Hui being inseminated last week at the Chiang Mai zoo. (CMM Photo.)

Zoo experts inseminated Lin Hui twice in a two day period with semen from her cage-mate, Chuang Chuang. The artificial insemination is a last ditch effort to get Lin Hui pregnant, after videos of pandas having sex failed to entice Chuang Chuang into mating with his partner.

“He just didn’t want to mate. He was looking at her as a friend,” said Sophon Dummui, director general of Thai Zoo Organization of Thailand which oversees the Chiang Mai Zoo.

“We saw that Chuang Chuang wasn’t mating with the female,” he continued. “If we don’t do artificial insemination, then maybe we couldn’t have a baby this year. We think the artificial insemination is the best option.”

The zoo rented 6-year-old Chuang Chuang and 5-year-old Lin Hui from China for US$250,000 (€188,000) in October 2003 for 10 years. They presence at the local zoo has generated an increase in revenue from visitors since their arrival.

Since then, they have tried everything from putting Chuang Chuang on a special diet to holding a mock wedding before resorting to artificial insemination.

While the technique is being tried on pandas for the first time in Thailand, it has been used for more than 50 years in China to trigger a baby boom among the bear-like bamboo eaters.

Thirty-four pandas were born by artificial insemination in 2006 in China and 30 survived; both record numbers for the endangered species. Artificial insemination has also been used at zoos in the United States.

The panda is one of the world’s rarest animals, with about 1,590 living in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces.

Giant pandas have a very low fertility rate because they are sexually inactive. Female pandas become pregnant only once a year and deliver two cubs at most each time.

The fertility of captive giant pandas is even lower, experts said. (CMM Reporters/AP)

40 million baht loot stolen in Hang Dong

Gold and precious stones belong to famous actor

Police were called to the home of Thongchai and Somthawin Intrarachoosri in Hang Dong after they reported more than 40 million baht worth of beaded gold strings and precious stones had been stolen from their home on March 29.

A distraught Tao Somchai talks to the media following the theft of his parent’s home in Hang Dong.

The Intrararchoosri’s are the adopted parents of the famous Thai actor Tao Somchai Kemkrat who lives in Bangkok. Upon learning of the theft Tao Somchai flew to Chiang Mai to comfort his parents and assist the police with their investigation.

According to the police, the burglar(s) managed to get inside the home through Somchai’s bedroom window.

The police suspect the thief or thieves are known to the family as the loot had been carefully hidden away in plastic bags and they have concluded it was someone with inside information.

A fingerprint was found at the site of the crime and for unknown reasons the police believe it belonged to a ladyboy by the name of Prakarn who is known to the family. Prakarn was detained by police while on his/her way to Chiang Rai. After hours of gentle questioning the police released Prakarn due to lack of evidence.

The collection of beaded gold strings and precious stones were to be part of a display in a museum Tao Somchai was planning on opening.

Chiang Mai not prepared for major earthquake

Earthquake warning system to be installed

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom visited Chiang Mai late last week and said that Thailand’s National Disaster Warning Centre will install earthquake early warning systems in all vulnerable areas nationwide.

ICT Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom visits the Software Industry Promotion Agency during his stay in Chiang Mai.

The timely announcement followed in the wake of two severe earthquakes in the Solomon Islands which triggered a deadly tsunami and killing up to 29 lives.

Speaking after visiting the Chiang Mai Seismic Measurement Station, Mr. Sitthichai said the installation of earthquake early warning systems will be an expanded as part of the tsunami early warning system towers which have been installed in the southern provinces following the tsunami strike in December 2004.

Beginning this fiscal year, according to the ICT Minister, the earthquake early warning towers will initially be installed in some major vulnerable locations before extending the installation to cover all areas deemed necessary across the country.

He said Chiang Mai is among the provinces requiring an efficient early warning system as Chiang Mai, which lies on a fault line, is not prepared to deal with a severe earthquake.

“The overall system to prevent and minimize damage from quakes in Chiang Mai needs to be revamped. We must make sure that high buildings in the province must be more quake- resistant,” added the Minister.

Meanwhile, the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), an Iranian private research institute and local universities are joining together to create stronger and more effective cooperation to predict and respond to earthquakes by training officials and preparing countries across Asia to monitor earthquakes.

AIT’s Dr. Nitin Tripathi said that better use and sharing of remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) data is essential to protect not only Thailand and neighboring countries of Southeast Asia, but the wider region, from the impact of earthquakes and tsunamis, and to help deal with the aftermath. (TNA)

ASEAN Finance Ministers meet in Chiang Mai

Pledge to guard against volatility

Finance Ministers representing the ASEAN community pose for a class photograph prior to their summit in Chiang Mai. AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong.

The Finance Ministers of the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN held a two day summit in Chiang Mai where they agreed to remain vigilant to external risks arising from global imbalances and volatile capital flows.

The regional grouping chaired by Thai Minister of Finance Chalongphob Susangkarn discussed progress in the implementation of the Roadmap for Financial and Monetary Integration of ASEAN as well as other regional initiatives.

The meetings that took place last Wednesday and Thursday at the Dhara Dhevi hotel stressed on the importance for ASEAN members to strengthen the financial position of their respective countries in order to strive toward realization of an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.

One of the many challenges the Asian countries face is the fluctuation of the world financial markets in particular. It was agreed that in order to boost short-term liquidity to strengthen financial positions of member countries the members agreed to adopt the CMI Multi-lateralization Pact.

Under this pact, member countries will pool surplus reserves through a fund established to supervise the movement of regional currencies to ensure they are not affected by the fluctuation in money markets that produce inflows of hundreds of billions of dollars into the region. When and if a member country experiences an economic crisis, they could seek help from the fund.

Also attending the summit were the three dialogue partners, China, South Korea and Japan, or the Asean+3 who resolved to establish an ASEAN bond portal that will provide a centralized platform of information on ASEAN bond markets.

Thailand and Singapore also agreed to move ahead with bilateral cooperation on establishing an electronic bond trading linkage between the two bond trading platforms.

ASEAN+3 comprises 10 intra-group members including Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, plus 3 dialogue partners namely China, Japan, and South Korea. (CMM Reporters/TNA.)