NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chinese rescuers entering remotest quake zone find devastation, stunned survivors

Government’s cut-price rice sells out fast at City Hall

Sticky rice growers complain to City Hall over falling prices

Thai Airways compensates householder for roof damage

Thai medics in Myanmar prepare for humanitarian mission

Mae Hong Son garlic protesters close roads; government gives in

Chinese envoy thanks Thais for donations to quake victims

Possible drug money laundering attempt fails

Huge new aquarium for Chiang Mai zoo hopes to attract tourists

Swept away by sorrow - the continuing tragedy

Songtaew operators request an increase in fares

Chiang Mai Night Safari’s new facility hosts youth learning camp

 

Chinese rescuers entering remotest quake zone find devastation, stunned survivors

Audra Ang, Associated Press Writer
Beichuan, China (AP) - Stunned survivors huddled in makeshift shelters lining the mountain road into one of the remotest corners of China’s earthquake zone as troops marched in and found devastation.
Buildings not flattened or toppled into piles of smoking debris in Beichuan county were left tilting at awkward angles - evidence of the violent power of the earthquake that struck days earlier.
Beichuan, an area of small mines and tea plantations whose forest-clad hills are a habitat for rare pandas, was among the hardest hit by the quake, which shattered roads and set off landslides leaving its three major towns and 13 villages isolated.
State media said Friday that soldiers and police had finally reached all of the isolated mountain communities near the epicenter.
In Beichuan town, piles of broken concrete stood seven stories high, smoke plumes rose from some of the wreckage. People cried out the names of missing family members while rescue workers, some with sniffer dogs, shouted, “Is anyone there?”
Sometimes the shouts were answered by faint cries or tapping sounds. A call from the ruins of an apartment building drew a group of volunteers, who spent more than four hours using hands and spades to rescue a middle-aged woman.
“She had the will to live,” said Xu Tao, one of the volunteers, a demobilized soldier and now an office worker in the eastern city of Tangshan. “I’m just exhausted.”
About 10 people were pulled free Friday, four days after the quake.
In what had been the town’s commercial center, alleys of restaurants, convenience stores and shoe and clothing shops were impassable with debris, overturned cars, and scattered merchandise.
People picked through the ruins, looking for food or other usable items. In one alley, six bodies lay on mattresses or bed frames covered with quilts.
On the roadside leading into Beichuan, hundreds of families were camped with whatever belongings they could salvage and carry.
“We’ve lost everything. There’s nothing left of our village, nothing left of our home,” said Pan Guihui, a small woman with a vacant stare.
She and her husband, 1-year-old child, father and two brothers had hiked 13 hours from their village farther up the mountain. They had only the clothes they were wearing and a little food.
“I have just been so frightened this whole time. I don’t know what we are going to do,” said Pan, 35.
As she spoke, hundreds of soldiers marched by in long columns along the road, some carrying shovels.
Dozens of people trudged up the winding mountain road carrying backpacks and gripping bags of food and medical supplies - relatives hopeful of finding loved ones.
Among them was Liu Jingyong, a 43-year-old migrant worker, who rushed back from Zhenghzou city several provinces away to try to find his cousin.
“I have not had any information from him,” Liu said. “I tried to rush back as soon as I could, but there were no flights and I had to take a bus.”
The trip had taken him two days and he was walking the last short stretch.

 

Government’s cut-price rice sells out fast at City Hall

300,000 tons of rice sold to China for Olympics

Saksit Meesubkwang
Chiang Mai citizens gathered recently at City Hall to take advantage of the government’s allocation of 3,000 1 kilo bags of rice, to be sold at 120 baht per bag.

A local resident registering to purchase government-issued rice at 120 baht per kilo.
Customers were issued with a queue card on production of their IDs, and their hands were stamped to prevent repeat purchases over and above the three bags per person allowed. In this manner, hoarding seems to have been prevented, however, there was concern about the reselling of the bags at a higher price.
An official from the local authority’s commercial department warned that local growers must take more note of the domestic market for normal rice, and less note of their preference for growing sticky rice. Prices, he said, are high at present because China has ordered 300,000 tons of Thai rice in preparation for the summer Olympic Games, 250,000 tons more than their normal annual requirement of 50,000 tons.
Prices were expected to return to normal after the event. At present, there are stockpiles of 4 million tons of rice in the country, plus an amount from short-term out of season production, the harvesting of which is beginning at this time.


Sticky rice growers complain to City Hall over falling prices

100 Sansai farmers struggling to cope financially

Sansai sticky rice farmers protesting about wholesale price cuts.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Out-of-season sticky rice farmers in Amphur Sansai are struggling to cope due to a reduction in the wholesale price of their crops intended to lower the price of rice, said their leader, Chamrat Lunma, during a meeting held at City Hall on May 13 with the Deputy Governor of Chiang Mai, Choochat Kilapaengat. Prices per kilo were previously set at 7-8.5 baht by the Ministry of Commerce; however, the farmers are at present receiving only 4.5-6.5 baht, and are demanding that the price be reset to 9 baht per kilo. The majority of growers in the 2,800 rai cultivation area lease the rice fields from investors, and many have taken out bank loans, some non-accrueing.
Chamrat stated that the government should show impartiality and sympathy to the growers, and submitted a 5- point letter to Choochat setting out their demands. The points stated included that the government and the province must guarantee the price of sticky rice to be no less than 9 baht per kilo; that both province and government must set reasonable price levels on all agricultural products for the entire year; that this should include a set price of 12 baht per kilo on normal rice; that officials must verify that middlemen are acting fairly, and that the government and province must provide a cheaper source of fertiliser than at present. The Deputy Governor informed Chamrat that the growers’ demands would be submitted to the government for consideration.
A similar situation exists in Chiang Rai, where, after three days of protest against falling prices, local growers of out-of-season sticky rice from many districts in the area blocked roads leading in and out of the province and the city. Approximately 500 farmers camped on the main road and blocked it with cars. A stage was erected from which to mount the accelerated protest. A demand was made to an assemblyman that the local administration addresses their problems without delay. A representative from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives was sent to address the irate growers, but no conclusion was reached. As a result, the protest and the closure of the main road are continuing.


Thai Airways compensates householder for roof damage

The damage to the householder’s roof, caused
by severe turbulence from a Boeing 747 on landing.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Thai Airways International were recently forced to pay a local householder 10,000 baht in compensation after air turbulence caused by the landing of Boeing 747 damaged her roof in December last year.
Mrs. Supaporn, 40, the owner of the house in Nimanoradee Housing Estate, situated adjacent to Chiang Mai International Airport’s runway, had previously applied to Thai Airways without success as officials from the company had stated that responsibility for compensation rested with the Chiang Mai Airport Authority. On her resending of the complaint to the Airport Authority, they agreed to meet the claim, and the money was subsequently presented to her by a representative of the Airport Authority on behalf of Thai Airways, who stated that the payment had been made out of the Airport Authority’s relief fund. Supaporn told reporters that repairs to her roof had cost 13,000 baht.


Thai medics in Myanmar prepare for humanitarian mission

Permanent Secretary for Public Health, Dr. Prat Boonyawongvirote, led the first team of doctors to Myanmar last Friday to work with the Myanmar government in advance of 30 physicians from the Royal Mobile Medical Unit, who travelled to Myanmar last Saturday.
Ten tonnes of medicines and medical supplies accompanied the Royal Medical Team, whose specialists will focus on providing medical treatment to cyclone victims. Prat said that the unit plans to enter the Irrawaddy River Delta on a two-week mission. The team will move to several areas to give cyclone victims access to medical services.
According to Department of Mental Health director general Dr. Watchara Pengchan, in addition to providing direct basic medical services, information and treatment experience gained during Thailand’s response to victims of the tsunami will be shared with health professionals on the ground who will be dealing with the psychological and emotional problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, encountered by the cyclone victims. Dr. Wachara will accompany the team as it enters the Irrawaddy Delta area. (TNA)


Mae Hong Son garlic protesters close roads; government gives in

Agriculture Remedy Board comes up with the cash

After 2,000 garlic growers caused massive traffic jams by blocking both the northern and southern access roads into Mae Hong Son city in protest against financial difficulties caused by the falling wholesale price of their crops, the government’s Agriculture Remedy Board allocated 300 million baht to buy the crops at a mutually agreed price. The growers had been planning to extend their protest the following day to City Hall to prevent workers from entering, when, at 6 pm that evening, their leader Niran Chankhaen told them the good news. The deal included plans to distribute the cash through the Agriculture Cooperatives Bank, and to set up a committee at provincial level to ensure that farmers were correctly remunerated. A similar protest has been held recently in Chiang Mai, although the results are not yet known, and others are planned in Phrae and Chiang Dao.


Chinese envoy thanks Thais for donations to quake victims

Chinese Ambassador to Thailand, Zhang Jiuhuan, on Friday received financial assistance of US$500,000 from Thailand for earthquake victims in China and thanked the Thai Royal Family and the Thai people for their concern for the people affected by the disaster.
Speaking after receiving the donation from Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, as representative of the Thai people, he said the Chinese nation appreciated the concerns expressed by Their Majesties the King and Queen as well as all members of the Royal Family about the earthquake, which rocked Sichuan province on Monday last week.
Zhang said that all members of the Royal Family had sent condolences and messages to the Chinese government expressing their concern about the situation.
“The Thai government and people have paid close attention to the disaster and have not hesitated to give their assistance. It shows that both countries have close relations like those in the same family. We want to assure all Thai people that we are determined to cope with the hardships incurred from the disaster and try to ease it to the utmost of our ability”. He continued, “Even so, our country is willing to receive international assistance”.
Noppadon stated that he had informed the Chinese envoy of Thailand’s readiness to give additional assistance, whether in the form of medical teams or any other assistance deemed necessary by Beijing. “Although the Chinese government is well-equipped to help the earthquake victims, Thailand, as a close friend, still wants to assist its northern neighbour to the utmost of its ability”. The Chinese envoy reaffirmed his government’s readiness to begin the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8 as scheduled, despite the magnitude of the natural disaster. (TNA)


Possible drug money laundering attempt fails

Police confiscate 1 million baht from Mae Sai woman

After receiving a report that a smuggling operation by drug dealers was underway, Mae Sai police arrested a local woman and confiscated a pack containing a million baht.
Officers were waiting at the arranged meeting place when a van drew up, leaving the engine running, and handed Namer Salee, 38, the package. When questioned after her arrest, Namer told police that she had been given the money by a man, instructed to use it to buy antibiotics, and to take them to a pharmacy opposite Mae Sai Police Station. When questioned, the owner of the pharmacy denied all knowledge of the deal. Police suspect that this was an attempt at money laundering by a drugs gang, and will continue the investigation on that basis.


Huge new aquarium for Chiang Mai zoo hopes to attract tourists

Two tier entry charges may drive them away

Saksit Meesubkwang
A news conference was held on May 8 to announce Chiang Mai Zoo’s opening in October of the world’s longest aquarium, which will display 8,000 fish from 250 salt and fresh-water species in two compartments, each of which will measure 66.5 metres. The zoo’s director, Sophon Khamnuy, announced that the construction work was 90% complete, and the total cost would be 600 million baht, shared between the Zoos Organisation and the public company MarineScape Thailand, whose investment in the scheme gives them the right to manage the aquarium for a period of 20 years under a profit-split agreement.
The MD of MarineScape, Rongroj Thuwanlin, described the aquarium as being located in an area of 13,895 square metres which will include a reception hall and an 8,000 metre viewing walkway, and will have a capacity of 1,000 visitors at any one time. The fresh-water display will be modelled on the marine environment of the Mekong River. Rongroi estimated that 40% of visitors would be foreign tourists.
Entry for Thais will cost 180 baht; entry for foreigners will be 380 baht; this amount, according to Rongroj, is cheap compared to entry charges to foreign aquariums. He did not speculate about entry charges for foreign residents in Chiang Mai who do not have access to foreign aquariums. Entry for children under 3 years old and adults over 69 will be free; again, it was not specified whether or not this includes foreigners.


Swept away by sorrow - the continuing tragedy

Tess Itura
The blogs are alive with eye-witness accounts of the devastation, the lack of help of any kind by the military, and the growing anger of the Burmese people against the ruling junta’s indifference to their plight. From failing to inform at-risk areas of the ferocity of the coming cyclone, through failing to allow essential disaster-trained experts into the country to coordinate the relief effort, to recent reports that the military are hoarding the enriched supplies delivered by aid organisations and sending out spoiled or poor quality food, the ruling junta’s actions should have proved beyond doubt to the outside world that their inhumanity is no longer acceptable.
The power of the internet, and of the brave few who risk their lives and liberty by sending real-time reports to various sites, has ensured that no-one outside the country is fooled by the staged photo opportunities given to carefully selected media representatives showing soldiers handing out food and clearing rubble in Rangoon.
The truth is that only 10% of those affected are being helped in any way, and that almost no aid is reaching the devastated 2000 square miles of the Irrawaddy Delta where, once again, heavy rain is falling on countless thousands of starving, homeless people.
Monks and outreach aid personnel already on the ground are working around the clock; however, they are unable to cope with the tens of thousands of human and animal corpses floating in the flood waters. The threat of disease grows ever stronger - medical supplies and water purification tablets are scarce. The world watches in frustration; aid workers and supplies sit, useless and unused, in airports from Bangkok to the USA. The UN debates and bleats; the French government gets angry; the Canadian government informs two of its citizens, (who are struggling, and succeeding, in organising an aid operation together with a Rotary Club here in Chiang Mai), that by transporting aid into Burma they will be breaking a government embargo against sending anything into that desperate country. Embargos, apparently, are embargos; the number of lives that might be saved is not given consideration.
What can we do? Quite a lot, it seems. In an attempt to give discreet details in this newspaper of small aid organisations here in Chiang Mai who are managing to get aid across the border and into affected areas, two days’ research uncovered many small groups and individuals who are very involved, together with Rotary, the local Red Cross, and other similar organisations. Our motivation in trying to inform readers of the smaller groups is that donating to those with direct contacts in the worst affected areas may reassure people that their generosity would not be diverted into the pockets of the Burmese military, or be left standing in a hangar somewhere outside the country.
To make matters worse, if that’s even possible, international media reports Saturday state that the junta has seized all food and equipment received from the UN’s World Food Programme, who are now suspending further shipments until the matter is resolved. In the Delta, soldiers are ordering homeless refugees to leave the monasteries in which they were taking shelter, and forbidden some monasteries from distributing aid; Burmese citizens who try to take aid to affected areas have been forced to turn the supplies over to the army. Four US Navy ships are anchored off the coast, ready to deliver 70,000 gallons of fresh water per day to victims at present dying of thirst - so far, permission has been refused.
Recently, the Thai Prime Minister entertained the Burmese leader with a home cooked meal, having previously stated that friendship and support was the way to the junta’s heart. We wonder if he has changed his mind? Or not?


Songtaew operators request an increase in fares

High fuel costs cause discontent

Songtaew drivers demanding fare increases to cover
the rising cost of fuel at a meeting with local authorities.

Saksit Meesubkwang
The president of the Lanna Taxi Cooperative, Ton Wongkaew, met recently with representatives of the city traffic authorities after complaints had been received from residents and tourists concerning the rapid and unofficial rise in the cost of a journey by songtaew.
Ton stated that, in 2005, when the cost of a journey had been fixed at 15 baht, the cost of a litre of fuel was 20 baht; since then it has increased to 35.3 baht, and is continuing to rise concurrently with the price of oil on the world market. The 2005 agreement had also stated that, should fuel prices rise to more than 35 baht a litre, the passenger fare would also rise to 20 baht to cover increased fuel costs. Operators have filed a claim with the cooperative stating that they are forced to increase their fares.
However, the traffic authority’s response was that fares must remain static at 15 baht per journey until a report has been submitted to the provincial authority, and thence to the Communication Committee at the Ministry of Transportation. No increase in fares will be allowed until the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Transportation has given a ruling.


Chiang Mai Night Safari’s new facility hosts youth learning camp

Buddhist approach to forest and natural zoology in focus

Students from Hang Dong Rat Rasadorn Upatham School,
attending the Virtue Camp at Chiang Mai Night Safari.

A new facility entitled the Forest and Natural Zoology Youth Learning Centre has recently been developed at the Chiang Mai Night Safari, with the aim of enabling student and other groups to hold activities and conferences on site. Consisting of a camp comprising 10 large tents, each able to hold 10 field tents, plus a centre providing bathrooms, conference rooms and an activity yard and guest room for up to 300 people, the new facilities are being offered to schools and student organizations at an economical rate.
The first project to be organized at the new site was a Virtue Camp for 4-6th year secondary students from Hang Dong Rat Rasadorn Upatham School, and took place on May 8/9, attended by 300 young people. The aim of the project was to help the students to learn how to live together successfully, aided by the practicing of mind training, meditation and problem solving through Buddhist practice. The surrounding natural environment and the wildlife it contains were also studied.
School and organisations interested in using the above facilities are invited to obtain further details from the Marketing and Public Relations Office on 053 999 000 ext. 1063-1065, or on 053 999 015.