Vol. VII No. 10 - Tuesday
March 4, - March 10, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

In his home city, Thaksin’s supporters celebrate his return

Drug dealer’s assets seized by Office of Narcotics Control Board

Elephant with “longest tusk in the world” dies at Chiang Mai Zoo

14 North Korean refugees arrested at bus station

State media chief gets abrupt transfer

21st Thailand - Malaysia Joint Committee Meeting held in Chiang Mai

Yet more Ya Ba methamphetamine pills confiscated, man arrested

Finance Minister to approach ex-premier to be advisor

Thai Prime Minister visits Laos and Cambodia

Well-being of Kagan (Long-Necked Karen), villagers in Mae Rim is questioned

Gas tank explodes, causes serious fire at noodle restaurant

Thai PM tells US Assistant Secretary of State, “Today is my day”

Thailand-Myanmar to cooperate over forest fires in border areas

Hmong tribespeople help to build 150 km firebreak

 

In his home city, Thaksin’s supporters celebrate his return

Speeches condemn coup as undemocratic and damaging

Saksit Meesubkwang
Last Thursday, local supporters of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra closed roads in the northern capital, and welcomed his homecoming with speeches and celebrations. A group calling themselves Kon Rak Thaksin, (People who love Thaksin), set up a stage in front of the Grand Waroros Hotel near Wat Phrasing, and brought in a statue of the returning leader complete with welcoming flower garlands. A 40 foot long banner was placed in front of the stage on which supporters were able to write welcome messages and congratulations. This will be presented to the ex-Prime Minister when he visits Chiang Mai in the near future. The leader of Kon Rak Thaksin, Mahawan Kawang, the president of Lanna Chiang Mai Community Radio Announcers’ Association, gave a protracted speech of welcome, and local restaurant owners supplied free food and drink to the crowd.
In the evening, former national and local politicians attended the rally, including the former Mayor of Chiang Mai, Boonlert Buranupakorn. Speeches were made, attacking the military coup, and included Boonlert’s comment that the coup was not in line with democratic ways and had resulted in both a fall in tourist revenue and an economic recession. He stated that, “Today is the right time for Khun Thaksin to return to his country and his home town. Both Thais and Chiang Mai residents are very glad to see that the situation in the country will return to normal very soon.” The speeches, and Boolert’s comments, were received enthusiastically by the crowd.

 

Drug dealer’s assets seized by Office of Narcotics Control Board

3 houses, 2 cars, 1 motorcycle, 1 dog

Saksit Meesubkwang
A drug dealer associated with the notorious and now deceased General Lao Li’s drugs ring in Chiang Mai had his assets seized last Wednesday by police acting with Office of Narcotics Control Board officials. Last Tuesday, police arrested suspected gang members associated with Suradet Saehow, 38, a Chinese Haw from Chiang Mai, and charged them with possession of 20,000 Ya Ba pills. During questioning, Suradet was implicated as a major figure in the gang.

Furniture was included in the assets legally seized.

However, he became aware that his name had been put forward, and, leaving his wife and 2 children, fled the area. Police ascertained later that he seemed to have no legal occupation, but had amassed property and personal belongings beyond his apparent means and was living an expensive lifestyle. He had also been seen associating with other members of the Chinese Haw drugs gang.
The property seized included three houses, two cars, one motorcycle, furniture, and a male dog, the fate of which has not been reported. Suradet’s wife, Ajue Saeyan, has had to sign and acknowledge that the assets were legally seized.


Elephant with “longest tusk in the world” dies at Chiang Mai Zoo

“Plai Ek” passes away peacefully at 79 years old

Elephant with “longest tusk in the world” dies at Chiang Mai Zoo.
Buddhist monks were called in to perform religious rites,
and he was buried at the southern end of the zoo.

Saksit Meesubkwang
February 25 was a sad day at Chiang Mai Zoo, where Plai Ek, the elephant who had made it into the Guinness Book of Records due to the length of his tusks, died peacefully at the grand old age of 79, and the grand weight of 2,800 kilogrammes.
Early that morning his mahouts reported that he had refused to get up, or to eat his breakfast as usual. Vets and zoo officials did their best, but, sadly, Plai Ek died 8 hours later. Buddhist monks were called in to perform religious rites, and he was buried at the southern end of the zoo. Plai Ek had been a working elephant in Huay Tak forest in Lampang, and was gifted to Chiang Mai Zoo by his owners in 1979 on his retirement at the age of 50. His favourite food was bananas and fresh grass shoots. During his long stay at the zoo, he fathered two children.


14 North Korean refugees arrested at bus station

People smuggling gang traced to Chiang Rai

Staff reporter
On February 25, police, having cooperated with naval officers of the Mekong River Security Unit, arrested a Thai man and woman and confiscated a pick-up truck and an amount of Chinese currency. As a result, a total of 14 North Korean refugees, who had been illegally brought into Thailand, were also detained.
A report had been received from undercover officers that North Korean refugees were being smuggled into the Kingdom using the Golden Triangle route, and were being taken by road to Chiang Rai. A search was carried out at Chiang Rai bus station, where the North Koreans were found, together with Jutamas Putipho, 44, from Bangkok, and Nikom Chaiyakul, 38, from Chiang Rai. All were arrested and charged, and the investigation will be broadened.


State media chief gets abrupt transfer

Latest head to roll in reshuffle

The abrupt transfer on Thursday of Pramote Ratvinij, Director-General of the Public Relations Department (PRD), to the Prime Minister’s Office to oversee the yet-to-be-formed ASEAN television station was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office on the same day. The lightning transfer was issued following days of mounting speculation that Pramote would soon lose his politically-sensitive post. Minister Jakraphob Penkair said that Prime Minister Samak had appointed Pramote’s deputy, Pacheun Khampho, to replace him as acting PRD chief, and explained that the decision was not politically motivated as the government needed a capable person to implement the urgent task!
Pramote, seen as being close to the military coup personnel at the now defunct Council for National Security, was the third senior government official who has been axed since the People Power Party-led coalition government, comprised of key allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, came to power after the December 23 general election. Last week former justice Sunai Manomaiudom, Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation, was transferred to a newly-formed agency.
The DSI is responsible for some major corruption cases including charges against Thaksin and his wife Pojaman over the alleged concealment of shareholdings in SC Asset Corp, a listed property development company. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration official Dr. Siriwat Thiptaradol, was also moved to the post of inspector general at the Public Health Ministry. Dr. Siriwat was appointed by the military-installed previous government to chair the committee for compulsory licensing of patented drugs, a controversial action which the new government is reviewing. The policy, however, in a move the improve the health of the disadvantaged, allowed poor patients access to expensive life-saving drugs at much cheaper prices. (TNA)


21st Thailand - Malaysia Joint Committee Meeting held in Chiang Mai

Cooperation on many joint issues assured

Staff Reporter
The 21st Thailand - Malaysia Joint Committee Meeting was held on February 25 at the Holiday Inn, Chiang Mai. Gen. Boonsang Niampradit, the Thai Supreme Commander and his counterpart Gen. Tansri Abdul Asis Haji acted as the Thai and Malaysian joint chairmen of the committee. The agenda included discussions on cooperation in ground, sea and air patrols as well as joint training and exercises, together with border management, intelligence issues, communications and psychological cooperation.
During the meeting, Malaysia agreed to relax its border crossing procedures if requested by Thai officials on a “special case” basis. The Malaysian authorities had ceased using facility letters during border crossing procedures, which had caused problems for working procedures processed by Thai officials. Problems regarding holders of dual nationality were also discussed, and it was agreed that a swift solution should be found. A Working Committee will be set up involving both the Thai and Malaysian Interior Ministries, which will investigate and prepare data concerning this issue.


Yet more Ya Ba methamphetamine pills confiscated, man arrested

Chiang Mai Airport transaction foiled

Khajohn Boonpath
On February 24 in Mae Hong Son province, a Lisu man, Arsae Laoyeepa, from Chiang Dao, was arrested together with 128,000 Ya Ba pills in 64 packs, which were hidden in his pick-up truck. An amount of 7,140 baht in cash and two mobile phones were also seized. During questioning, Arsae admitted that he had obtained the pills from a man who had delivered them at his request to a gas station in Pang Mapha district. He had already sold a quantity of the pills to customers in Chiang Mai, and had made another appointment to deliver a further amount to a client at Chiang Mai Airport, to which he was heading at the time of his arrest. It was discovered that the pick-up truck was registered to Alupa Saemoo, a Chiang Dao resident, who is, as a result, being closely monitored by the Special Task Force.


Finance Minister to approach ex-premier to be advisor

Monitoring to continue on baht’s rise

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee on Thursday revealed he would approach deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to be his advisor on Thailand’s economic problems. He expected to approach Thaksin regarding this proposal once the ex PM had dealt with his immediate personal concerns. However, no official position would be offered in order to ensure there is no violation of the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on a 5-year ban on Thaksin’s political activities. The former premier, having met with high level businesspersons in various venues during his exile, should be very well aware of the needs of foreign investors.
Regarding the continued appreciation of the baht, Surapong said that the Bank of Thailand had kept a close watch on the situation. It would, therefore, attempt to prevent the baht from strengthening more than that of other currencies of neighbouring countries. (TNA)


Thai Prime Minister visits Laos and Cambodia

First foreign trip to introduce new government’s policies

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej began a series of visits to introduce himself and his government’s policies to ASEAN members with a trip to the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia, taking place between February 29 and March 4. Samak and his entourage left Bangkok on Friday morning for Vientiane in order to strengthen diplomatic relations and cooperation between Thailand and its neighbour. Samak and his Lao counterpart Bouasone Bouphavanh were scheduled to hold bilateral talks regarding road links and energy cooperation. The prime minister held discussions with senior Lao officials regarding current concerns in Thai foreign policy in order to forge closer links with the ASEAN member countries. He also paid a courtesy call on Lao President Choummaly Sayasone.
On Saturday morning, Samak met Thai officials and the locally resident Thai community at the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane, and returned to Bangkok on Saturday afternoon. His visit to Cambodia began on Monday morning, when he and his delegation left for Phnom Penh, where, together with Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia, he will co-chair a bilateral meeting before returning to Thailand today (Tuesday, March 4). (TNA)


Well-being of Kagan (Long-Necked Karen), villagers in Mae Rim is questioned

Investigation follows concern and complaints

Members of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council visited
the Kagan village, Ban Huay, in Tambon Mae Raem,
Mae Rim in Chiang Mai on February 23.

Saksit Meesubkwang
On February 23, ten members of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council visited the Kagan village, Ban Huay, in Tambon Mae Raem, Mae Rim, after complaints had been made concerning their treatment and use as a tourist attraction.
The village is the home of members of the Kagan (long-necked) branch of the Karen Hill Tribe, who had been invited to come to live in the Chiang Mai area in a specially constructed replica of their home village by businessmen. Investigations were also carried out by the same group in the Mae Hong Son area, where similar conditions prevail. Complaints regarding the plight of the Kagan tribespeople in both areas had been received from many organisations.
In 2006, authorities in New Zealand had offered resettlement to a large number of Karenni refugees, mostly from the Mae Hong Son area, with the assurance that they would not be separated in their new country, and that they would not be used as a tourist attraction. However, reports at the time suggested that the Mae Hong Son authorities, for financial reasons, denied them their exit permits and travel documents, causing a number of Kagan women to remove their rings in protest. It would seem that, even now, the Kagan peoples are not allowed to leave the immediate area of their villages.
As regards the village in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai travel guides have reported that it is not authentic, and that the souvenirs which tourists are persuaded to purchase are factory made, with little connection to the traditional arts of the tribe. Owners of the villages have forced women to wear their rings again for the benefit of tourists, who are charged entry to the villages. Although many older Kagan do feel that living as they do now is preferable to living in a war zone, there is still a high degree of dissatisfaction amongst the tribespeople in general. The absence of choice, freedom and alternatives, the constant fear of arrest, the stringent restrictions and the lack of integration, are all issues which hopefully, will be addressed by this investigation.
Somkhuan Raviarch, a member of the Council, said, following the visits, that he realised that businessmen and investors were “modelling” the lifestyle of the resident tribespeople in order to gain revenue from tourists, and that he felt that the village surroundings should be more natural and cultural. He understood that the Kagan had accepted to come to the villages in order to earn money for their families, but stated that he believed the operators of the schemes were benefiting far more than the villagers. Vichit Yusupharp, chairman of the Council’s Justice Working Committee, stated that, during the two day visit to both areas, he had found that the Mae Hong Son authorities had at least provided good accommodation and medical care to the Kagan people in their area. The issues about which there had been complaints would be summarised and presented to the government. “Kagan” is the preferred name of the tribespeople; they are also referred to as “Paduang”, a Shan name.


Gas tank explodes, causes serious fire at noodle restaurant

Father and daughter badly burned

Saksit Meesubkwang
A gas tank exploded at a Kao Soi northern noodle restaurant in Chiang Mai Monday last week, starting a serious fire in the building and badly burning the owner and his daughter. The restaurant was located in a narrow soi off Rakaeng Road; at the time the fire broke out there were cars parked on both sides of the lane, preventing the fire trucks from easily accessing the area. By the time they managed to get through, the two storey shop-house was almost completely destroyed. Neighbours had managed to recover property from the burning building, and had already taken the injured to the Central Memorial Hospital, where doctors later stated that the daughter was still in a coma, with burns over most of her body. She had apparently been standing next to the gas tank when it exploded. The condition of the father is not known. Damage is estimated at more than 300,000 baht.

Fire fighters brought fire under control after a gas tank exploded at a Kao Soi northern noodle restaurant in Chiang Mai Monday, February 25.


Thai PM tells US Assistant Secretary of State, “Today is my day”

Christopher Hill expresses support for Thaksin’s return

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Friday assured a visiting US top official that he is the true head of government amid criticism that he was merely a nominee and that the premiership could possibly remain under the control, or at least the influence, of his predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra.
During a one-hour courtesy call at Government House by Christopher Hill, US Assistant Secretary of State, Samak was quoted as telling his American visitor, with a laugh, that: “Today is my day.” Deputy government spokeswoman Supharat Nakbunnam disclosed that Mr. Hill expressed support for Thaksin’s return to Thailand to fight for justice in court as well as his appreciation of the fact that the Kingdom had returned to democratic government. “The US Assistant Secretary of State did by no means raise any concern regarding Thaksin’s homecoming”, said Supharat.
The US government lifted its previous suspension of military aid for Thailand, (introduced in response to the military coup which toppled Mr. Thaksin in 2006), after Samak was named prime minister in early February. The US Assistant Secretary of State told Prime Minister Samak that President George W. Bush is interested in visiting Thailand later this year, although details of the visit are yet to be discussed. Meanwhile, Mr. Hill asked the Thai prime minister to help with his official visit to Myanmar, scheduled for March. The North Korea issue, however, was not discussed. (TNA)


Thailand-Myanmar to cooperate over forest fires in border areas

Myanmar officers to monitor area

Staff Reporter
On February 25, a meeting was held at Mae Sai between representatives of Mae Sai district, the Specific Task Force, the area’s Immigration office and the Commander of the Myanmar Mobile Infantry Battalion 359 to discuss the continuing problem of forest fires and smoke from burning along the Thai - Myanmar border. Another concern discussed was the upcoming Songkran festival, traditionally celebrated in both the Thai and Myanmar areas. A cooperative effort between authorities in Tachilek and Mae Sai was proposed and accepted, with the two border areas working together in April this year to ensure that safe and enjoyable festivities foster friendly relations between the two adjacent communities.
The issue of last year’s serious pollution was fully discussed, and it was agreed that information about burning, forest fires, etc, should be given to Myanmar citizens along the border. This should assist awareness of the severity of problems caused by out of control forest fires, and encourage citizens to take precautions, report fires and help to extinguish them before they take hold. Officers will be appointed by the Myanmar authorities to assist in monitoring the situation.


Hmong tribespeople help to build 150 km firebreak

Extra protection justified

Forestry officials and Hmong tribespeople living in the area
of Doi Suthep-Pui mountain cooperated recently
in the building of a huge 150 kilometer long firebreak.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Forestry officials together with Hmong tribespeople living in the area of Doi Suthep-Pui mountain cooperated recently in the building of a huge 150 kilometer long firebreak to expand protection for nearby farmlands, residential areas and the Phuping Ratchaniwes Royal Palace, in the event of a major forest fire outbreak. Although fewer forest fires have occurred this year, perhaps due to awareness and assistance from local people regarding the issue, it was felt that there was still enough concern to justify the extra protection afforded by the firebreak. The work itself, involving 200 people, took three days to complete, and ranged across three districts, Muang, Hang Dong, and Mae Rim.



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