NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai’s Mayor announces a “Polite and Safe Songkran”

Chiang Mai municipality cares for domestic animals

Mayor Dr Duentemduang conducts a pre-Songkran inspection of the moat area

NGOs call for “international best practice” during new war on drugs

New HomePro store opens in Hang Dong

Myanmar gas pipeline leak not affecting Thai power supplies

Thailand, Laos to tighten border security

Northern Meteorological Department warns of more storms during April

Drought in Chiang Rai province intensifies as Mekong waters recede

British man dies after night out with friends

Thai Airways flight to Mae Hong Son delayed at both ends

Thaksin begins merit-making tour of northern Thailand

Saraphi district lung cancer sickness and death highest in Thailand

 

Chiang Mai’s Mayor announces a “Polite and Safe Songkran”

“A peaceful, non-violent, non-alcoholic festival”

CMM Reporters
At a press conference at Wat Phra Singh last Wednesday, the Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai, announced her plans for a polite and safe Songkran. Attended by officials from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and representatives of the local police force, she asked the local media to pass on her hopes of a “peaceful, non-violent, non-alcoholic and Happy Water Thai New Year”. To this end, the authorities have set up 20 ‘polite zones’ around the moat where people can enjoy the festivities in the traditional manner. These zones will be manned by Thai and foreign volunteers in order to assist tourists and the general public at large.

 

Chiang Mai municipality cares for domestic animals

City vets were busy all day vaccinating and spaying dogs and cats

Saksit Meesubkwang 
Following reports that there was a spread of diseases relating to animals such as dogs, cats and rabbits in our city, the Chiang Mai Livestock Office launched a campaign not only to rid the city of stray animals but also to protect them from contracting rabies and other communicable diseases.
Last week a team of veterinarians from the office set up a mobile veterinarian clinic at Sala Wat Suan Dok, in Chiang Mai where citizens could bring their beloved pets to be vaccinated against rabies and also have them spayed if they so wished.


Mayor Dr Duentemduang conducts a pre-Songkran inspection of the moat area

Newly introduced disinfected water to be chlorinated

Dr Duentemduang, Mayor of Chiang Mai,
 inspects the pre-Songkran work at the moat.

Saksit Meesubkwang
On April 1, the Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai, and her administrators inspected work in progress along the moat in the Khu Mong area of the city. The moat has been cleaned and dredged, and a new footpath has been laid. Although the construction work is not yet complete, it has now been suspended in order not to cause inconvenience to residents’ and tourists’ celebrations of the Songkran Festival in the area. The project is due for completion at the end of June, but the city’s Irrigation Department has now filled the moat with disinfected water, which will also be chlorinated in order to make it safe for those who wish to play and swim in it during the festival.


NGOs call for “international best practice” during new war on drugs

Fears that new policy will result in extra-judicial killings

CMM Reporters
At a regular monthly meeting of NGOs held in Chiang Mai late last month, representatives of northern region civil society pressed the government to abide by international best practice and human rights guidelines in the recently announced new “war on drugs” scheduled to begin on April 2. In February, the Minister of the Interior, Chalerm Yubamrung, had caused concern with his statement that, “If drug dealers do not wish to die, they should change their ways. Whilst I am Interior Minister, drug suppression strategies will follow those used during former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s time in office. If this leads to the deaths of 3,000-4,000 criminals, then so be it. As to those of you in the opposition party, I will say that you care more about human rights than the drug problems in Thailand”. When Thaksin’s policy was launched in 2003, it resulted in over 2,800 extra-judicial killings of suspected drugs users, and was heavily criticised by local and international media and society.
Concern amongst civil society representatives focuses on fears that the new initiative will drive drug users underground, away from the reach of services that can save their lives. HIV prevention and treatment may be compromised, as the fear of mistreatment will prevent injecting users from accessing essential harm reduction services, resulting in the loss of innocent lives and the spread of the virus. Karyn Kaplan, campaign director of the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group is particularly worried, and states, “Drug suppression is nothing new; it has been happening for decades, but is now being taken up by increasing numbers of NGOs and user organisations. Without proper monitoring by such organisations, the government’s initiative may not be able to solve the problem. Incidence of HIV in injecting drug users represents 50% of the total; yet, although the NGO efforts in this field are being recognised even outside Thailand, the Thai government seems to be ignoring the problem”.
Another speaker, Sakda Puekchai, chairperson of the Thai Drug User Network of Thailand, stated that, “The current narcotic control policy makes the future look gloomy. Even although many organisations are now becoming informed and involved, I am not sure whether the results will be positive or negative.” Sakda added that research should be undertaken to fully understand the needs of drug users. “The community of drug users needs to be effectively engaged in addressing the problem of drug use. The authorities need to get exposed to facts told directly by drug users. At the moment, the voices of affected drug users are not heard, and they have no role in making the policy.”
Wiwat Tami, coordinator of the Network for Health of Ethnic Groups on Highlands, highlighted that the Thai government drug policies were informed by stereotypical views held of certain groups within Thai society. For instance, Thai ethnic groups are perceived to be potential drug dealers and therefore a threat to national security. As a result, during the previous “war on drugs” in 2003, ethnic people were specifically targeted and many innocent people were implicated and even killed. “The war on drugs caused a lot social disruption within the ethnic communities... Many families were affected, children were orphaned and some women were widowed,” said Wiwat. “Widowed women were forced into risky transactional sex in an effort to raise resources to support their families.”
Civil society representatives agreed that much more work needed to be done to ensure that more information is collected among the affected groups. The response to the resumption of the war on drugs needed to be locally motivated, and that an appropriate response to the drug problem required a multi-sectoral, integrated and comprehensive approach that respected fundamental human rights within the scope of international law.


New HomePro store opens in Hang Dong

Easier access for local expat residents

Tess Itura
Those of us who are already familiar with HomePro, (who isn’t!), and who live in the Hang Dong area of the city, might be pleased to know that a new branch of the expat-oriented store opened last Saturday on the Big C complex on Hang Dong Road. The original store on the Superhighway must, surely, be well appreciated in the expat community by now as a result of its lady manager’s policy of excellent and friendly customer service and encouragement of her staff in learning English, thus giving HomePro a distinct advantage over other such stores in Chiang Mai.

The Governor of Chiang Mai, Wibun Sa-nguanphong, together with the President of the HomePro group, Kunnawat Thumpokul, the Senior Vice President of the HomePro group, Weerapun Ungsumalee, and officials of the company, at the opening of the new HomePro superstore in Hang Dong.
The opening of the new store proceeded with much ceremony and some delicious catering, attended by a good number of mostly Thai invited guests, the usual clump of media representatives, and a few expats. The Senior Vice President of the HomePro group, Weerapun Ungsumalee, gave the initial speech, followed by a speech in welcome to the new store by the Governor of Chiang Mai, Wiboon Sa-nguanphong. After the Governor had performed the ribbon-cutting ceremony, donations of newly renovated suites of children’s restrooms were given to the directors of four schools in the area by the President of the HomePro group, Kunnawat Thumpokul. After the much appreciated presentation, everyone followed the Chiang Mai Governor and the company’s executives into the new store to admire the layout and presentation of everything from beautifully designed furniture to nuts and bolts!


Myanmar gas pipeline leak not affecting Thai power supplies

Repairs to be completed within 5 days

The Ministry of Energy has insisted that a leakage in the natural gas pipeline from Myanmar’s Yetagun gas field will not affect the Thai public’s electricity bills, confirming that Thailand’s energy giant PTT will postpone the shutdown of Myanmar’s gas pipeline and has reserved fuel oil supplies from Malaysia to cover the emergency. Energy Minister Poonpirom Liptapanlop said that although the Yetagun gas field in the Gulf of Martaban and the Arthit gas field in the Gulf of Thailand have problems, there will be no shortage of electricity.
Referring to the higher production costs incurred by using fuel oil to replace natural gas, she said that consumers will not suffer as insurance will protect the gas fields’ operating company, and the still strengthening baht will help reduce such costs. Malaysia’s Petronas, operator of the Yetagun gas field, informed PTT that repairs to the gas pipeline will be completed within five days. PTT has been importing reserve fuel oil from Malaysia at the rate of 10 million litres per day, and has announced postponement of the pipeline’s maintenance shutdown scheduled for April 11-20.
Daily gas imports into Thailand total 1,160 million cubic feet from the Yetagun gas field and 700 million cubic feet from the Yanada gas field. The supply from the Yetagun gas field was suspended on April 2 due to two pipeline leakages. (TNA)


Thailand, Laos to tighten border security

More, and more vigilant, army and police

Thailand and Laos agreed last Monday to increase border security by enhancing the numbers and vigilance of both military personnel and border police, with a view to stemming the flow of illicit drugs and the trade in endangered species. Despite this intention, the two sides did not endorse encroachment by military personnel or police forces of either side.
The move was announced after the 16th Joint Border Committee meeting, which took place as part of the Greater Mekong Sub-region leaders’ summit, by Thai Prime Minister and Defence Minister Samak Sundaravej, who presided over the meeting together with Lao Defence Minister Lt Gen Duangchay Phichit. Also in attendance at the talks were Thailand’s Military Supreme Commander and secretary-general of the National Security Council, together with senior officials of other relevant agencies.
In addition to the above, both sides agreed to regulate border activities to facilitate tourists wishing to cross the border, and to resolve problems of dual citizenship.
In response to the question of 7,800 Hmong immigrants living in refugee camps in Thailand, Prime Minister Samak said the government was ready to repatriate the people, provided they volunteered. Lao Defence Minister Duangchay said Laos was prepared to receive them after proper procedural verification that they were genuinely Lao nationals. However, there may be problems with the UN’s Refugee committee over this issue. (TNA)


Northern Meteorological Department warns of more storms during April

Depression from China covering north and north east

CMM Reporters
In a recent announcement, the Northern Metrological Department issued warnings of more summer storms to come. The warning stated that depressions are sweeping in from China over the north and the northeast, resulting in cloudy skies and light rain in 60 % of affected areas. Parts of the north are experiencing hot weather and extreme humidity which may result in summer storms during April bringing rain, heavy winds and hailstones. Buildings and crops may be damaged as a result.
Residents and farmers in the north are asked to secure their homes and store all items that may be carried off by high winds. Also recommended is the removal of branches from trees located near power cables, the protection of fruit trees against damage from high winds and the tightening of up billboards. To protect against lightening strikes during storms, it is suggested that metal jewelry should not be worn, mobile phones should not be used in the open, and stand-alone buildings or trees should not be used as shelter.
The public is asked to take care and can call 053 277 919, 053 922 365 and 053 281 271 or go to http://www.cmmet. tmd.go.th/ for 24 hour weather updates. The main site is in Thai; the weather forecast page is in English.


Drought in Chiang Rai province intensifies as Mekong waters recede

68,000 rai of agricultural land now affected

The drought in Thailand’s northernmost province of Chiang Rai is reaching crisis point as the Mekong River waters continue to recede, and is severely impacting boat tour operations on the river. Songchai Suksomjai has reported that Mekong tour operators in Chiang Rai’s Chiangsan district are concerned that the water transport business is being severely affected by the river’s receding waters.
Tour operators have attempted to counter the problem by reducing the number of passengers in order to cut each boat’s load from 35-40 persons per trip to 20-25, giving the craft a shallower draft which enables it to cruise in shallower waters. However, fewer paying passengers at a time when fuel prices are rising means that the tour companies are losing profit. As a result, they are asking for government aid in cutting gasoline prices in order to reduce their costs.
In a related development, the Chiang Rai drought has gradually expanded so that it now affects almost 314,000 families in 18 districts. Residents and farmers are now being hard hit by water shortages and drought affecting their crops. More than 68,000 rai of agricultural land has been damaged by the drought, causing the provincial authorities to declare all 18 districts of Chiang Rai as a drought-ravaged area. (TNA)


British man dies after night out with friends

Illness combined with excess alcohol may have caused death

Saksit Meesubkwang
A British man was found dead by police on March 31 in a room at a recently constructed but unoccupied guesthouse in Muang district. Mark Elliott, 34, and his girlfriend Claire Duire, 24, had arrived in Thailand on March 19 with the intention of touring the Kingdom during their vacation. On their arrival in Chiang Mai, they had rented a room at a guesthouse in the Wat Pra Singh area. On the evening of March 30, they had visited the Night Market, after which Elliot had arranged to meet some of his friends at a bar. Later, the group had been joined by Duire.

Claire Durie speaking to police after her partner’s death.

After continuing to drink until the early hours of the morning, the couple had attempted to find their way back to their guesthouse, but had lost their way. A security guard at a nearby newly constructed building, seeing that Elliot was too drunk to walk, had suggested that they spent the night in one of the finished rooms, and asked a man at the scene to help him assist the couple to the room. The following day, at 1 pm, Duire had woken up, only to find Elliot dead beside her on the floor. Police were called, together with a doctor from the nearby Maharaj hospital, who estimated that Elliot’s death had occurred some 5 hours previously. Later, Diure told police that Elliot had suffered since childhood from an illness which required regular medication, and had, since their arrival in Chiang Mai, already visited Chiang Mai Ram hospital once. A doctor has since confirmed that Elliot’s heavy drinking on the last night of his life could have caused a relapse resulting in terminal shock.


Thai Airways flight to Mae Hong Son delayed at both ends

Storms, high winds and smoke from wildfires wrecks schedule

Khajohn Boonpath
A Thai airlines flight from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son carrying 60 passengers, half of whom were foreign tourists, was recently grounded at its destination for more than two hours due to poor weather conditions in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. On March 30, TG 194, due to depart from CNX at 10:10 am, according to the airline’s recently reduced schedule, had already been delayed for nearly three hours because of strong winds and smoke from wildfires west of the city, which had caused visibility on the runway to drop to around 1,000 metres. After landing late at Mae Hong Son, heavy rain and more smoke from wildfires prevented its return to Chiang Mai for almost three hours. By the time the return flight had landed, visibility at CNX had improved to around 3,000 metres, still less than normal, but adequate for a safe landing.
To take account of fluctuating weather conditions and reduced demand, Thai Airways had already reduced the number of daily flights from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son from three to two, as reported in this newspaper’s March 18 issue, together with the new timetable.


Thaksin begins merit-making tour of northern Thailand

“No politics, just a social contribution”

On Thursday, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Thursday began what he called a “merit-making” tour to his key rural stronghold, Northern Thailand, but refused to make any comment on politics. It was Thaksin’s first trip outside Bangkok since the end of his self-imposed exile in Britain after he was toppled in a military coup in September 2006. Speaking before boarding a Thai Airways International Bangkok-Chiang Rai flight, he said that he wanted to visit the region only to perform Buddhist merit-making ceremonies, and would continue on to Cambodia during April 5-6 to play golf with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. “The Cambodian premier invited me as an acquaintance. He was afraid that I might be lonely after losing my job,” he joked, adding that he would return in order to welcome and assist the owner of a major foreign steel company who has shown interest in investing in Thailand. The ex-premier avoided making any comments on politics, saying only that he wanted to make a social contribution to the country. (TNA)


Saraphi district lung cancer sickness and death highest in Thailand

CMU research indicated Radon gas, smoke dust and toxic fumes as cause

Saksit Meesubkwang
The results of a research project carried out by the Faculty of Medical Science at Chiang Mai University have shown that residents in Saraphi district have the highest number of lung cancer deaths and sickness in the whole country. Taking a figure of 100,000, 09% were suffering from the disease, and 04% had died from it, figures which are 5 times higher then in the rest of Thailand. The location and topography of the area makes it vulnerable to the release from under the ground of the gas Radon, a known carcinogen; smoke from burning, toxic fumes and minuscule dust particles are exacerbating the problem. Solutions include the raising of properties to improve ventilation, the repair of any cracks in walls in an effort to prevent penetration of the gas, and the planting of numerous trees which will help to absorb the gas and dust.