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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Mayor of Chiang Mai speaks at Chiang Mai Expats’ Club meeting

Armed robbery at Siam Commercial Bank, Nong Hoi

Thai Elephant Day

Thai Airways new reduced flight schedule Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son

Thailand’s Hill Tribes Network voices concern over Thaksin-style “War on Drugs”

Thai health ministry fights rising obesity death toll

Mayor of Chiang Mai welcomes new Walking Street Committee

Critical forest fires on Doi Suthep and in Mae Rim

 

The Mayor of Chiang Mai speaks at Chiang Mai Expats’ Club meeting

“Question and answer session“ proves illuminative

Tess Itura
On March 8, at their regular meeting venue, the Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel, Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai responded to the club’s invitation to her by addressing the assembled members and participating in a “question and answer” session. The room was crowded, with not only the regular attendees, but also with many members who did not want to miss the opportunity of hearing the Mayor’s future plans for the city and her feelings concerning its ever-growing foreign contingent.
Dr Duentemduang began by saying that she considered the occasion to be “a rare opportunity to talk to global friends”. She gave a brief background of her life to date, including her age, (36), the fact that she had been Chiang Mai born and educated, and that she had continued her education in the United States, gaining a Master’s degree and Ph.D in Economics. When she returned to Thailand, she taught in a school which trained Army Cadets, during which time she became interested in politics, and subsequently joined the Democratic Party. At one time, she ran for Parliament, but was unsuccessful. Finally, she was elected as Mayor of Chiang Mai. Her brief is basically an area of 40 square kilometres, encompassing 4 districts, (amphur) which contain 14 sub-districts, (tambon). As she put it, her job description resembles that of a housewife, but on a much larger scale, “Environmental, Economics, and Efficiency”. Maybe some of us from the UK might well remember a certain lady Prime Minister who made a very similar statement…!
She explained that the Chiang Mai Municipality will be the key in the 4 year Strategic Development agenda, which aims at development of the city whilst retaining and sustaining its beauty. A major priority will be the issue of pollution, closely linked with the annual burning of forest areas and agricultural land. The call centre fire reporting facility is being restructured on a local basis; discussions are being held with cellphone companies regarding the issue of compliance as, in the two months since the call centre’s inception, there have been many complaints.
Burning, she stated, involved areas outside the city, as well as the city Amphurs themselves. Most serious fires originate in the agricultural and farming areas on the borders, outside her area of influence, and are traditional means of dealing with stubble, etc. It will be hard, she stated, to change behaviour patterns established over generations, especially when night burning often occurs, and when police are reluctant to intervene as they do not have enough officers to cope with demand. A city-wide collection of leaves, garden refuse, etc, has been organised, involving 8 trucks, with subsequent removal by the Army for composting and returning. She would be happy to take advice on this important issue, as she is aware that there are many projects would benefit from cooperation.
Dr. Duentemduang assured her listeners that “We all live in Chiang Mai, and are therefore all Chiang Mai citizens”. She apologised that her English was not so good; everyone laughed when she continued, “but my staff’s English is a lot worse!”
She mentioned her plans for the upcoming Songkran festival, and stressed that she would wish for it to return to its more traditional form, rather than continuing as the annual “Water Wars”. With which statement, most of her listeners would, we suspect, agree!
Questions were asked on many topics, including motor bikes, helmets, etc, to which her reply was that she is trying her best to enforce safety standards, but again, police numbers are not large enough for continuing enforcement. As regards the city bus services, the Municipality is working towards improvements, but this will take time. On a question about street elephants, the Mayor was, perhaps, a little less forthcoming, in that she stated that elephants are not the Municipality’s responsibility, but that of the Thai Government itself. She hoped, though, that maybe the local police authority might involve itself…
On a question about the introduction of casinos into Chiang Mai, possibly following the new Prime Minister’s statement that he was planning to legalise gambling in Thailand and establish government-owned casinos in the major tourist areas, Dr Duentemduang’s answer was very positive. She is against the plan, and considers that the revenue generated by a casino in Chiang Mai would not compensate for the social problems it would cause. She also stated that provincial administrations and the Thai Ministry of the Interior may not interfere with each others’ areas of governance. In a general comment, she mentioned that, at present, there were budget constraints which prevented her from moving ahead as fast as she would like, but stated that “I am new in this job - things will get better!”
To her audience, one of the most important statements made by the Mayor must surely have been that she would like to see volunteers from the Expat community helping with many of the projects she had mentioned; for example, one important use of this being that if an English-speaker called to report illegal burning, there would be an English speaker on hand to take the call. Volunteers could also consider working with the Mayor’s staff with the aim of making them more comfortable with the English language. In another general, but highly relevant statement, she said that “The more people care, the more we can achieve”.
In her closing statement, she hoped that she could repeat the experience of talking with her “global friends”, and reiterated that “We all live here - we all belong”.
Should any readers of this article wish to volunteer to help in any way, we would be happy to receive your contact details by e-mail, and to forward them to the Mayor’s office.

 

Armed robbery at Siam Commercial Bank, Nong Hoi

Suspect arrested drinking beer at Carrefour!

Saksit Meesubkwang
Current high fuel prices and the economic recession in Chiang Mai would seem to be fuelling an increase in crime in the city. The latest manifestation of this trend occurred on March 12, when an armed robber shot the manager of a local branch of Siam Commercial Bank, and escaped with 200,000 baht, only to be arrested two days later whilst drinking beer in the restaurant area of the Carrefour/Home-Pro complex on the Superhighway.

The armed robber, with police, outside the scene of his crime.

At 3.30 pm on the day of the robbery, police were called to the Nong Hoi intersection branch of Siam Commercial Bank. On arrival, they found quantities of blood on the glass entrance door and the floor, together with a spent 9 mm cartridge.
The manager of the bank, Chakapong Wiyo, 42, who had been shot in the face by the robber, was immediately transferred to Rachawet Hospital’s intensive care unit.
A witness and employee at the bank, Pornthip Inthayot, described the incident to police. A member of staff had opened the door to allow the final customer of the day to leave, when a man wearing a yellow tee shirt and sunglasses forced his way in and threatened the bank’s staff with a gun, ordering the manager to open the cash deposit drawer. Chakapong emptied the drawer and gave the cash, a total of 200,000 baht, to the robber, who then shot him in the face and, placing the cash in a bag, fled the scene.
On questioning the bank’s staff, police discovered that the robber had visited the bank earlier on the same day, presenting a cheque, and asking to withdraw money from an account. He was refused, as the account did not have the balance necessary. He left the bank, had coffee at a local shop, and returned with the gun as the bank was closing. In a possibly connected incident, a girl riding a motorbike had asked about a man answering to the robber’s description at a nearby petrol station. Police suspect that the robber had arranged to be picked up by the girl after the crime had been committed.
Two days later, the robber was arrested, and identified as Tiwakorn Thalek, 27, of Chiang Mai. He has admitted to the charge. Doctors at Rachawet Hospital have since reported that Chakapong’s condition is now stable.


Thai Elephant Day

The parade of the camp’s elephants, with their mahouts.

It’s treats time! Sugar cane and fresh fruits on a special day.

The Mae Sa Elephant camp celebrated Thai Elephant Day with special activities including painting displays, elephant “football and basketball” matches and rides. More than 80 elephants received a special treat of sugar cane and fruit.


Thai Airways new reduced flight schedule Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son

Staff Reporter
Thai Airways International will reduce the number of flights from Chiang Mai - Mae Hong Son from 3 flights to 2 flights a day, due to poor weather conditions affecting visibility and lower passenger numbers, effective from March 30, 2008. The new schedule will run until October 25, 2008, according to Treeroj Nawamarat, THAI Manager at Mae Hong Son Airport. The timetable is as follows:
TG 194 departs from Chiang Mai at 10:10 am and lands in Mae Hong Son at 10:45 am.
TG 195 departs from Mae Hong Son at 11:05 am and lands in Chiang Mai at 11:40 am.
TG 196 departs from Chiang Mai at 4:10 pm and lands in Mae Hong Son at 4:45 pm.
TG 197 departs from Mae Hong Son at 5:05 pm and lands in Chiang Mai at 5:40 pm.
All flights use the ATR 72 type of aircraft.


Thailand’s Hill Tribes Network voices concern over Thaksin-style “War on Drugs”

Appeal to be made to Thai government to keep “within legal limits”

Saksit Meesubkwang
Following a government announcement of a renewal of the “War on Drugs” initiative last practiced during ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s term of office, the Hill Tribes Network of Thailand have expressed their concern that hill tribespeople may again be subject to extrajudicial killings.

Representatives of the Hilltribes Network of Thailand are seen discussing the “War on Drug” issue during the meeting held at Chiang Mai University on March 7.

The government announcement was made by Minister of the Interior Chalerm Yubamrung, who stated that the renewal of the strategy would bear results in the immediate future. During Thaksin’s premiership, a similar project resulted in the killing of 2,500 innocent people, mostly of hill tribe nationality. It was felt at the time that hill tribespeople were targeted by army and officials because it was believed that they would have little legal redress against the extrajudicial killings. A large number of drug dealers were also killed during the purge.
On March 7, at CMU, the Network held a press conference to announce its concerns, at which it stated that the Thai government “needed to bring wrongdoers to justice and not to put innocent people on a blacklist”. It resolved to request that government officials and their agencies keep the “War on Drugs” within legal limits, respect human rights, do not use violence against the public, and prevent revenge killings. Police, prosecutors, and the courts should resist the temptation to implement policies which would breach the human rights of innocent people. Failure to do so would result in hill tribespeople losing trust in the judicial system, and could eventually lead to the Network’s taking cases of human rights abuse to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
The Network also stated that it is fully in support of the government’s drug suppression activities, and the punishment of wrongdoers by the courts, and that it is well aware of the serious social problems caused by drug abuse. A committee will be set up within the Network’s Human Rights Committee, in order to closely monitor the government’s activities. Local volunteer members will also monitor the activities of officers in their areas, and will report on any illegal killings.
The Hill Tribes Network of Thailand is a public sector organisation which works with all races throughout the Kingdom.


Thai health ministry fights rising obesity death toll

Lifestyle-related illness on the rise

The Public Health Ministry has launched a campaign to help overweight Thais fight obesity after the number of patients with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer doubled during the past five years. Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsab cited the World Health Organization’s report that lifestyle-related illnesses, particularly obesity, led to almost two-thirds of all deaths in developing countries and stated that this rising trend is a cause for worry. Lifestyle-related illnesses have caused 96,354 deaths in Thailand in the past five years, representing, on average, one death every six minutes.
The number of patients with heart disease doubled from 318 to 682 per 100,000 of the population; cases of diabetes have more than doubled from 278 to 587 per 100,000, and the number of people suffering from cancer rose from 80 to 124 per 100,000. The annual cost of treatment of these diseases was more than five billion baht. In 2007, 42 per cent of Thais aged over 15 years old, about 17 million people, were overweight, averaging one in five Thai men and three in five Thai women.
The ministry has launched pilot projects to decrease the number of overweight people by 40,000 people in each province or about 3,000,000 people across the country. A two-year plan to counter obesity will start in May this year, and will focus on the role of local authorities in promoting 45-minute workouts five days a week in conjunction with healthy eating habits. (TNA)


Mayor of Chiang Mai welcomes new Walking Street Committee

Goods for sale should have “real” Chiang Mai identity

Saksit Meesubkwang
The Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai, recently attended a meeting of the Muncipality’s new Walking Street Committee, along with municipal authorities and the traders themselves.
The Walking Street market, held for some 5 years now on Rachadamnoen Road in the old city on Saturday and Sunday evenings, has always proved a very popular destination, both for tourists and residents. In the past, however, there were organizational issues such as clearly defined sales areas and waste disposal, which led eventually to the formation by the Municipality of the Walking Street Committee, whose brief is to deal with problems as they arise. It will represent the traders themselves, and will emphasise the stocking and sale of local quality products and goods which reflect the real identity and culture of the city of Chiang Mai.


Critical forest fires on Doi Suthep and in Mae Rim

“Burning” issue clearly not resolved

Staff Reporters
Last week a serious forest fire broke out in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. On March 11, firemen from the Sua Fai fire control unit were called to 5 rai of forest land in the immediate area behind Chiang Mai Zoo. By the time they arrived, the fire had burned out of control, due to the hot, dry weather and the covering of leaves on the forest floor. Firemen were unable to bring the fire under control; subsequently a helicopter provided essential support by bringing 10 loads of water from Ang Kaew reservoir in order to extinguish the flames.
At the same time, another large fire broke out near the Huay Tung Thao reservoir in Mae Rim district. Again, firemen were unable to control the fire, and helicopter support was requested in order to douse the flames. An area of 5 rai of land was affected.
Smoke from illegal burning is causing much concern in nearby Lamphun, resulting in the governor of the province surveying the area by helicopter. It was subsequently emphasised that burning of all types is prohibited by law, and that local authorities must impress this on local residents. In Lampang, although pollution is at present decreasing, it was again emphasised that any persons starting fires would be charged using the full extent of the law.
Further away, in Chiang Rai province on the border between Thailand and Laos, local administrations set up a local level committee of 20 sub-district headmen and village chiefs to handle the integration of wildfire protection amongst the communities. A protocol of cooperation was instigated, and a firebreak is to be set up along the border and in tourist areas such as the Pabong cave and Doi Patang. The border districts are particularly vulnerable to wildfires started by lightning strikes during storms, as the mountain ridges contain large areas of a certain type of extremely inflammable grass. High winds are common in the area, with the result that, once a fire has taken hold, it will spread very quickly.