Vol. VII No. 34 - Tuesday
August 19 - August 25, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Flooding reaches crisis level as Mekong River bursts its banks

Ex PM Thaksin skips bail; flies into exile

Major drugs and money laundering suspect arrested

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit attends rice-blessing ceremony

Government officials fail to turn up at Ethnic Minorities Fair

JJ Talent Competition wants foreign kids

Street crime on the increase

UK man murdered by Thai wife and lover

SAT Director answers user complaints about stadium’s tennis courts

Tree planting in Phrae to honour HM the Queen’s 76th Birthday

Olympic weightlifting hope loses pet dogs in Chiang Mai fire

Castration ban causes controversy between medics and gay rights activists

 

Flooding reaches crisis level as Mekong River bursts its banks

Four provinces severely affected

CMM Reporters
After days of torrential rains caused by a trough of low pressure across the north and north-east last week, the Mekong River reached its highest level in 42 years, inundating homes and farmland in more than 100 villages in Chiang Saen district, Chiang Rai province, flooding roads between Chiang Saen and Chiang Kong and causing panic amongst residents. Over 3,000 rai of crops have been destroyed to date, with more than 500 homes more than 2 metres under water. Officials in the flooded village areas were instructed to assist villagers to pack their belongings and move to higher ground. Transportation of goods has been seriously affected in the border area between Chiang Kong and Bor Kaew, and a port on the river at Chiang Saen has been closed due to the vastly increased volume of water. Interior Minister Kowit Wattana visited the province and distributed relief supplies. The situation in the area remains critical, as water levels have only slightly receded.
Serious floods have also occurred in Nong Khai province, where water levels in the Mekong have reached 13 metres. Extensive damage has been caused to farmland, homes, temples and schools in areas adjacent to the river. Aid centres have been established by the Nong Khai Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office, the Red Cross, and other local organisations.
In Nakhon Phanom, hundreds of houses and 400 roads and country lanes are under water, with 12 districts declared disaster zones. More than 185,000 rai of crops have been destroyed. Local officials are monitoring flood levels and preparing to evacuate residents if the situation deteriorates further. In the Kalasin district, three Mekong tributaries burst their banks, inundating low-lying areas including paddy fields. An initial survey has found that about 128,180 people in Nakhon Phanom were affected by the floods, seven dykes were damaged, and over 1,200 commercial fishponds were affected. Damage has been estimated at 193.8 million baht.
In Loei, many tributaries poured water into the already swollen Mekong, causing flooding in Loei and two adjacent districts, with water levels of 50-70 cm in depth. 6 houses in Chang Khan district were destroyed and roads damaged.

 

Ex PM Thaksin skips bail; flies into exile

CMM Reporters
Not unexpectedly, ex PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife, (recently given a three year jail sentence for tax fraud, but allowed out on bail pending an appeal), left China a day early on August 10 and flew discreetly into exile in London. The couple, who had the Thai court’s permission to visit China for the opening of the Olympic Games, but had been ordered to return Sunday 11, had left Thailand with a large amount of luggage, fuelling rumours that they would not be returning.
From his home in London, Thaksin faxed a hand-written statement to news agencies worldwide, apologising to the Supreme Court for not appearing before them Monday 11 to fight a corruption case brought against himself and his wife, Pojaman. “I must apologise for coming to live in England”, he wrote, “If I am fortunate enough, I will return and die on Thai soil, like other Thais”.
Thaksin owns several properties in the UK and spent some time there after he was removed from power by the military coup, only returning to Thailand less than six months ago. He also stated that his political enemies who were responsible for the coup were interfering with court processes in an attempt to crush him and his family, saying that, “They don’t care about the rule of law, facts or internationally recognised due process.
Analysts state that Thaksin’s decision to go into exile rather than fight the large number of corruption charges filed against him since the coup resulted in a stock market rise of 3 percent, reflecting hopes that PM Samak Sundaravej PPP government, widely regarded as a front for the ex-PM, would be able to get on with running the country and concentrating on the economy rather than having to deal with political moves to undermine them and constant anti-Thaksin protests. However, the middle-class and royalist based People’s Alliance for Democracy announced that it would not cease its efforts to bring Samak’s government down, claiming that Thaksin’s exile was a victory for their cause, but not the end of the war.
Thaksin’s biographer and political analyst Chris Baker said that his skipping bail and failing to report for the Supreme Court hearing on Monday 11 would be taken as defamation and contempt of court, meaning that he would not be able to return to Thailand for a very long time, if ever. His expressed criticisms of the courts are also likely to hamper his attempts to get back 2 billion dollars in Thai banks, frozen since the coup. It is not yet certain whether an extradition attempt will be made by the Thai Government.


Major drugs and money laundering suspect arrested

Mae Hong Son becoming centre for narcotics dealers

A money launderer involved in the narcotics trade, who had been under surveillance for several years following reports of his activities in Mae Hong Son, was finally arrested by the Department of Special Investigation under an arrest warrant from the Criminal Court in Bangkok. A-Chiang, (Yi), alias Chatchai Thammachatromroun, the owner of a vehicle-leasing company in Pai district, Mae Hong Son, had previously changed his name to illegally obtain a Thai ID card. Previous to his arrest, a search warrant had been issued by the Criminal Court; a subsequent search of his properties revealed weapons which, it is believed, had been used in violent crimes. Surveillance carried out by the Secret Intelligence Service indicates that Yi’s vehicle-leasing company was a cover for transportation of drugs as well as an instrument for money-laundering, with the vehicles travelling between Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son in support of North Korean drugs gangs working from Myanmar to Chiang Rai.
It is estimated that areas along the border in Burma contain a stockpile of more than 28 million Ya-Ba pills intended for Thailand; this has resulted in a number of trans-national narcotics dealers taking up residence in Mae Hong Son. Yi has been transferred to Bangkok to await the results of further investigation.
Further north in Chiang Rai, on August 10, members of the military and police from Pha Muang Military Task Force and Mae Fahluang police station combined to stop a convoy of two trucks containing 160,000 Ya-Ba pills and 1 million baht in cash, following a report that a large consignment was due to be delivered from a factory operating near the border in Burma.
Officers at the specially installed checkpoint in Ban Mae Fahluang stopped the first truck, being driven by Natthapon Watcharaphupa (22) accompanied by his wife, Warathip Saelao (20), and their 9 month old son. In the truck were a 9 mm automatic pistol and 1 million baht in cash. When the second truck, driven by Krai Saelao (43), accompanied by Sanya Saelao (19), was stopped and searched, a total of 160,000 Ya-Ba pills were found, with a street value of more that 300 million baht. All the accused were taken to Mae Fahluang Police station and charged with being in possession of narcotics intended for distribution.
A press conference held by Pattaya police August 13 announced that 4 known drug dealers, three men and one woman, had been arrested and that 28,000 Ya-Ba pills, 331,300 baht, a car and a quantity of gold jewellery had been seized in evidence. The accused are part of a gang based in the Chiang Mai area; Pattaya police are confident that they have seriously dented the organisation’s operations.


Her Majesty Queen Sirikit attends rice-blessing ceremony

CMM Reporters
On August 9, Her Majesty the Queen travelled to Ang Thong province to observe a traditional ceremony which invites the Rice Goddess to visit the fields. The ceremony has not been held in Thailand since 1961, when it was performed at the Chitralada Palace, and was organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to honour Her Majesty and preserve Thai traditions. Somsak Prissananthakul, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives stated earlier that it would take place at a demonstration farm under the Royal initiative in Tambon Si Bua Thong, and would show rice cultures and traditions from all regions of the country. He explained that the aim of the ceremony was to educate people about the whole rice system and to cultivate pride in Thai rice among Thai people and farmers. Most importantly, the ceremony would encourage Thai people to cherish their motherland and the occupation of rice growing.


Government officials fail to turn up at Ethnic Minorities Fair

Minorities disregarded; 80% of tourist take comes from ethnic site visits

Pictured is a group of hill tribespeople parading
with banners on World Ethic Minorities Day.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Directors of the Ethnic Minorities Network have criticized the Thai government for not recognizing the Ethnic Minorities Fair held at Chiang Mai University August 7-9.
The working committee of the fair, held on those dates in order to celebrate World Ethnic Minorities Day along with ethnic minority groups and their supporters worldwide, had submitted a letter to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security inviting its representative to preside over the opening ceremony. The Ministry failed to reply or to send a representative as requested; the governor of Chiang Mai province, who had been invited to receive a letter from the organizers calling for the recognition of the rights of minority groups, did not attend, nor did the deputy governor. The reason given by the provincial administration was that both were “busy” at the time. A minor official, whose brief was minority group issues, was sent. The event had attracted 25 ethnic minority groups, academics from various universities, more than 50 private development organisations, and a large public and private sector attendance.
Waiying Thongbue, advisor to the National Economic and Social Council, stated government representatives such as provincial governors should place more importance on ethnic minorities, who are accepted worldwide under the 150-member United Nations Charter of which Thailand is part. Pointing out that the Tourist Authority of Thailand uses a majority of photographs or ethnic minority groups to tourism across the world, and that 80% of tourism-related income comes from visits to ethnic minority sites, Waiying said that he could not understand the lack of importance placed by local and national government on both the event and the issue in general.


JJ Talent Competition wants foreign kids

The talented winner of the August “Solo/Duet” round of the JJ Talent competition was Satjawat Duangmuang, with his solo entry. The annual competition began in May with Thai bands competing against each other; August’s competition saw 9 solos and duets in the run off. Next month’s contest, to be held on Friday September 12, will be open to ‘farang’ performers.
Any foreign kids with bands aged between 16 and 25 may apply. The winners will receive a cheque for 3,000 baht and go through to the grand finals on December 4. The runners up get a chance to compete again in the semi-finals, to be staged on November 14, the winners of which will go through to the finals. The voting is decided by 7 judges and by the audience, who get the chance to vote for their favourite band. Any would be competitors should contact 083 208 3693 or 053 231 520 for further details and entry forms.


Street crime on the increase

Three separate mugging incidents occurred recently in Chiang Mai, two on Walking Street and one at Wararot Market. Police have arrested two of the criminals, but residents are being warned to take care of their possessions.
At the Klang Wang intersection on Walking Street, a Malaysian tourist, Chiew Singlang (34), visiting the city with friends, was attacked and her bag containing cash, 5 ATM cards, and important documents, was snatched. Later on the same evening, a Canadian visitor, Joe Bird, (62) reported to police that his mobile phone had been taken from his pocket. He stated that the street was crowded and he had felt a bump, but had taken no notice at the time. Police arrested Prachak Muanglah (28), of Nan province, and confiscated evidence consisting of a Buddha amulet, a watch, a mobile phone, and 150 Baht.
Sai Singher (34), a Chiang Mai resident, had also reported to police that a mugger had snatched her bag and had run away as she was standing in front of Wararot Market. Police pursued the mugger and traced him to Chang Moi district. Evidence was found in his pocket and he was arrested and charged with the theft.


UK man murdered by Thai wife and lover

CMM Reporters
The body of a retired design engineer from the UK, Ian Beeston, (69) was found by police on August 9 at his home in Suwannabhum village in the north-east of Thailand. On Monday 11, his wife Wacheerawan, (42), and her policeman lover, Somchit Janong, (48), were arrested and charged with his murder. The murdered man had previously left a letter with his lawyers which indicated that he feared for his life.
The pensioner, who had worked at Ford’s Dagenham plant in London, had been beaten and stabbed to death, and had, according to police, taken many hours to die. As his killers were arrested, villagers, shocked at their callousness, jeered and shouted at them.
Beeston had been married to Wacheerawan for 9 years when he discovered that she had cashed in at a local bank all the Thai property, including a restaurant, that he had bought with his life savings during their marriage. Under Thai law, as foreigners cannot own property, he had put everything in his wife’s name.” I thought she loved me but she just wanted my cash,” Beeston, who had arrived in Thailand with 350,000, told friends at the time. Shortly after the conversation, he asked his wife to leave the marital home, and began selling objects in the house and restaurant piece by piece to survive until he could legally get the funds to return home.
Friends of the dead man had advised him to return to the UK, as they felt he was in danger, but Beeston had decided to try to get his property back, and was due in court for a hearing the day his body was found. Under Thai divorce law the couple would have had to split everything 50-50; however, police believe he was killed because his wife wanted all his assets.


SAT Director answers user complaints about stadium’s tennis courts

Government subsidy more than halved, receipts down

Players pictured during a doubles match on a tennis court at Chiang Mai’s 700 Year Anniversary Stadium.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Users of the tennis courts at the 700 Year Anniversary Stadium in Chiang Mai have complained that the condition of the courts is deteriorating and is no longer satisfactory or safe. In reply, the current director of the Sports Authority of Thailand, (SAT), in Region 5, Ruchira Premamonda, told the CM Mail’s reporter that, since government funds for maintenance had been withdrawn in the year 2000, the courts are not an immediate priority.
The Thai government provides a subsidy of 11 million baht annually; however, expenses for the upkeep and maintenance of the stadium now run to well in excess of 25 million baht per year. Following a Cabinet resolution in the year 2000, the stadium’s management were told they must find the surplus themselves.
Ruchira explained that he took office in 2004. In his first year, the stadium’s income was 27.5 million baht, in 2005 it rose to 30 million baht and in 2006 it reached 31 million baht. Since then, due mostly to the world economic crisis and rising oil prices, fewer organisations are holding their events at the stadium— receipts have diminished as a result. Although repairs are being carried out, they are being scheduled on the basis of urgency. The stadium’s board of directors must approve all moneys spent.
He said he would be happy if organisations in Lamphun and Chiang Mai would hold events at the stadium, as the facilities are good and the venue is safe. Also, the complex has an accommodation block, which charges 600 baht per night per three people, and is convenient for the facilities. For more information, please call (66) 053 112 300, email on [email protected] homail.com , or visit the website at www.cmsat5.com.


Tree planting in Phrae to honour HM the Queen’s 76th Birthday

Bringing balance back into nature

On HM the Queen’s 76th Birthday, also National Mothers’ Day, the governor of Phrae, Pongsak Plaiwet, led a tree-planting ceremony in Her Majesty’s honour. Attendees included government employees, military personnel, police officers, students, and the general public.
Her Majesty the Queen is known throughout the Kingdom for her devotion to protecting the nation’s forest and water resources. In a speech, Her Majesty stated that, “The King is the water, and I am the forest. The forest has loyalty to the water. His Majesty the King created the water reservoirs, and I’ll create the forests”. Phrae province has promised to plant at least 770,000 Golden teak, Cassia fistula, and Apocynaceae trees over all of its districts in Her Majesty’s honour to replace trees which had been destroyed, bringing balance back into nature and reducing global warming according to the government’s policies.


Olympic weightlifting hope loses pet dogs in Chiang Mai fire

Forensic experts investigate blaze in dormitory room

Pictured is the gutted dormitory room where Pensiri Laosirikul’s
two pet dogs died as a result of the fire.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Thailand’s Olympic women’s weightlifting hope, Chiang Mai resident Pensiri Laosirikul, received tragic news during the competition when she was told that a fire had broken out in her room at a women athlete’s dormitory run by the Weightlifting Association of Thailand in which her two pet dogs had been killed.
Room 3 in the four-story building in Phan Pattana Army Camp No 178, Mae Rim, was home to Pensiri; when she left for China she had placed her dogs in the care of a friend, who had locked them in the room before the blaze broke out. When fire crews arrived, the fire was raging, and took 30 minutes to extinguish. Everything was destroyed, and her pets were found dead in the burnt-out room. Police initially suspected that an electrical fault had caused the fire; however, forensic experts have been called in to investigate. The CM Mail reporter was unable to photograph the scene as the military refused him entry.
At the Olympics, Pensiri, one of Thailand’s top medal hopes, failed to finish in the top three, only gaining the 5th position. Despite her defeat, she won praise from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who was at the weightlifting venue in person to watch the Thai team perform.


Castration ban causes controversy between medics and gay rights activists

New rules ban operation for minors

A decision taken by the Ministry of Public Health last April to suspend all castrations, except where treating life-threatening conditions, has caused controversy between the medical profession and gay rights campaigners.
The Medical Council of Thailand is at present drawing up regulations governing the nation’s sex-change industry which will forbid the voluntary castration of buys under the age of 18 years. Those under the age of 21 will need parental approval and psychoanalysis before the operation will be allowed to proceed.
However, specialists in the field, who have been performing more than 1,000 castrations annually are arguing that many minors seeking the operation do genuinely have Gender Identity Syndrome, for which the surgery is considered to be essential treatment. Thailand has one of the world’s largest transsexual communities. Aurchat Kanjanapitak, president of the Medical Association of Thailand, which represents 4,500 medical practitioners, states that “If someone happens to have a woman’s heart in a man’s body and doesn’t want to keep his testicles, the change should be allowed.
We should respect their decision and age shouldn’t be a fixed requirement”.
Gay rights activists say youngsters may follow a trend and regret it later, and, according to Amnaj Kussalanan, the Medical Council’s secretary-general, minors may make decisions carelessly because it is fashionable, because they have insufficient information or because they subscribe to the “herd mentality.’’



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