Vol. VII No. 39 - Tuesday
September 23 - September 29, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Traditional Nan Boat Races promote togetherness, tourism and health

Glutinous rice farmers protest again

Private sector investment in National Parks plan causes controversy

CM hosts educational visit by Myanmar drug suppression officials

Royal Ratchapruek Expo 2011 gets cabinet approval

Golden teak wood seized from Mae Hong Son warehouse

Road rage at damaged traffic lights results in 4 convictions

Chiang Mai hosts inaugural National Transgender Meeting

“Engineers without Borders” students provide sustainable water to Lahu villagers

Drunken teenager vandals throwing rocks choose wrong target

Floods update – 6 more die, trains paralysed, 36 provinces affected

 

Traditional Nan Boat Races promote togetherness, tourism and health

Saksit Meesubkwang
The annual Nan boat races, a traditional symbol of the province, were held this year on September 13, presided over by the province’s governor, Somphong Anuyothaphong, and the city’s major, Suraphol Thiensuth. A grand turnout of 28 large boats of phyanak (dragon) form, 37 medium-sized boats and 46 small boats competed, with huge numbers of local people from all sectors cheering them on.
This year, the objective of the traditional event, which helps to promote tourism in the area, was to campaign against substance and alcohol abuse, to encourage community relations and promote the concept of health and exercise amongst the youth of the area. The event was sponsored by Nan municipality, the Thai Health Promotion Organisation and other local organisations.
The history of the races reflects the way of life of the people of Nan over the centuries, and their traditional relationship with their life-giving river.

 

Glutinous rice farmers protest again

Promised government payout not made

Angry glutinous rice farmers surrounding the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives’ Chiang Mai headquarters, protesting that promised government payouts have not been made.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Earlier this month angry local glutinous rice farmers, whose previous protests had resulted in a promise to meet their demands, surrounded the Chiang Mai headquarters of the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, insisting that payments be made for rice already delivered to the Siripinyo Rice Mill.
Sommai Chaiyawongse, representing the farmers, stated that a meeting had been held in August between himself and the Minister of Commerce, at which it had been promised that the bank would set aside government money received for the rice to reimburse the farmers. As they had received no payments to date, they demanded that, if an agreement was not immediately reached, the director of the bank, Suthep Saitiong, should resign within 24 hours.
Protestors displayed an image of Suthep and tied the bank’s entrance and exit doors shut, preventing customers and employees from leaving. Police were called, and negotiated an agreement that leaders of the protest would meet with bank officials to seek a compromise. Later, it was agreed that the Ministry of Commerce would transfer 17.9 million baht to the bank before October 14, which would be used to pay the farmers.


Private sector investment in National Parks plan causes controversy

Saksit Meesubkwang
The recently announced plan to allow the private sector to bid for concessions to provide tourist facilities in 10 national parks has provoked concerns from environmental groups, who state that the parks’ fragile ecological balance may be at risk.

Environmental conservationists airing their concerns over the impact of commercialisation on the parks.

At a recent and hastily organised seminar held at Chiang Mai’s Payap University, the Rak Chiang Mai group cooperated with a Thai wild animal protection network to express their concerns. Nikom Puttha, representing the protection network, stated that is was inappropriate for private sector investors to construct hotels and shops within the national parks as the parks belong to the Thai people. His concerns included the possibility that private projects might be aimed at high-end tourists, thus excluding the majority of Thais from participating. Nikom further stated that research should be undertaken to determine the needs of visitors to the parks, and that deforestation and lack of concern for the environment is already taking its toll in Thailand’s precious natural resources. National parks and wildlife sanctuaries are in place to protect the numerous species of plants and animals, not for their exploitation for private gain.
It was reported that many scholars, private conservation and tourism organisations and communities country-wide are against the proposed measures, and are preparing to submit notices to the government requesting the cancellation of the new policy.
However, Jongklai Worapongsathorn, head of Doi Inthanon National Park, stated that strict conditions and regulations will be set up to ensure that there are no negative effects on the ecology of the parks. Concessions would only be granted in the present service areas; no new development would be permitted in any other areas, thus protecting the parks’ ecology. Jongklai explained that the reason behind the measures was that visitor numbers to the parks are rising, resulting in more attention having to be paid to providing suitable facilities for the increasing number of tourists. It was considered that the private sector’s experience in managing this aspect would be preferable.
The National Parks involved in the scheme include 4 in Chiang Mai province; in July this year, restrictions on the number of visitors allowed in the parks at any one time were introduced.


CM hosts educational visit by Myanmar drug suppression officials

The Commissioner of Region 5’s Provincial Police Bureau, Pol. Lt. Gen. Sathaporn Duangkaew (6th left), seen with Region 5’s Director of the Office of Narcotics Control Board, Chanya Sramatcha (7th left) and Pol. Col. Phone Kyaw Shwe, Myanmar’s Director of the Law Enforcement Division Office (4th left) at their recent meeting.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A policy of cooperation between the Burmese and Thai governments, agreed during the 12th bilateral conference on narcotics suppression held December 2007 in Naypyidaw, resulted in last week’s educational visit to Thailand by 8 border narcotics suppression officers.
A meeting was held in Chiang Mai between Pol. Lt. Gen. Sathaporn Duangkaew, Commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 5, Chanya Sramatcha, Director of the Narcotics Control Board Region 5, Pol. Col. Phone Kyaw Shwe, Director of Myanmar’s Law Enforcement Division Office and his team of 8. The Myanmar delegation also visited with the Region 5 Narcotics Control Board, the Region 3 Royal Thai Army and the Region 3 Border Patrol Police.
In a move to facilitate the growing of replacement crops amongst Hill Tribes, the Burmese visitors were shown the Royal Thai Agricultural Project at Doi Inthanon, and agreed to submit details of the project to their government. Attempts to provide economically viable alternatives to growing opium have been ongoing for 20 years.
Chanya stated that cooperation between the two countries regarding the problem of illegal drug smuggling is proceeding successfully, involving cross-border cooperation in the tracing of offenders, and the exchange of information. A new narcotics suppression centre has been established by the Myanmar authorities across the border from Tak province, but progress from this point will depend on the will of the Myanmar government to proceed and the level of its intention and further cooperation.


Royal Ratchapruek Expo 2011 gets cabinet approval

CMM Reporters
The International Horticulture Exposition panned for 2011/2012 was recently granted cabinet approval. Its goal will be to attract 2 million Thai and foreign visitors from 10 countries worldwide to the area used for the original exposition held in 2006.

Weerasak Kowsurat, Minister of Tourism and Sport, at the press conference announcing cabinet approval of the Royal Ratchapruek Expo 2011.

470 rai of land will be allocated for the new exposition, to be held from November 9, 2011 until February 15, 2012, and its organisation will be managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives’ Highland Research and Development Institute. The event will be held as a celebration to honour the 84th Birthday of His Majesty the King, and will also honour Her Majesty the Queen and the Crown Prince.
Features will include an international exhibition, an outdoor garden exhibition, international and Thai art including cultural events and international and Thai competitions. An agricultural technology exhibition and a technological seminar concerning garden plants, plus the distribution of agricultural products, will also be featured.


Golden teak wood seized from Mae Hong Son warehouse

Kajohn Boonpath
A report sent to Mae Hong Son’s Office of Natural Resources and the Environment (ONRE), resulted in a warrant being issued for a September 12 raid on a warehouse supposedly belonging to the Mae Hong Son Agricultural Cooperative. Police were unable to serve the search warrant as the owner of the warehouse could not be found, as a result, the local deputy village chief and other local officials were called as witnesses and entry was gained by climbing a wall. During the search, ONRE officers and local police discovered 200 square metres of golden teak logs hidden under a pile of garlic. After the discovery, a man, Kasem Mangkorn, told police that the logs belonged to the Region 3 Deputy Army chief, and were not to be removed under any circumstances He was ignored.
It seems that the owner of the warehouse, Prapan Kanyuma, had already left the area, having first contacted the Deputy Army chief, who had instructed him not to allow the logs to be seized. He was therefore unable to be served with a second court warrant to extend the time of seizure due to the large amount of logs found, Kasem then ordered workers at the warehouse to photograph all officers and media personnel, to be used as evidence in a claim to be filed at court. He was invited to sign an acknowledgement of the search warrant, but refused to do so. Officers surrounded the warehouse to prevent any of the illegal logs being moved out, and the search was completed the following day.
It was discovered later that the logs had been illegally imported September 11 from Burma by Kasem, without the necessary certificate of origin, in the name of the Mae Hong Son Agricultural Cooperative. Storage of the wood in the warehouse, therefore, was illegal, as was an unlicensed wood mill where the logs were to be processed.


Road rage at damaged traffic lights results in 4 convictions

Saksit Meesubkwang
The case against a local actor and his accomplices who attacked a driver and passenger last November at the airport crossroads in the city was finally closed earlier this month after mediation.
A classic road-rage incident, the attack took place on the night of November 3, when Somchai Kemklad and three of his associates in his car with him became involved in an argument with Chalermchai Saengsuwan, 24, and Busara Intapanya, 35, at damaged traffic lights on the airport intersection. A fight ensued, during which Chalermchai and Busara sustained bruising to their faces and bodies. A police report was filed, and Somchai and his associates were arrested and charged with criminal assault.
The defendants, who had pleaded guilty as charged, attended the Chiang Mai District Court in Doi Saket on September 10, and were initially sentenced to a fine of 4,000 baht each and a 6 months jail sentence. During mediation, the two sides were able to reach agreement. As a result of having admitted their crime and having no previous convictions, their sentences were reduced to fines of 2,000 baht each, one year suspended sentences during which 4 reports to probation officers were mandatory, and 12 hours’ community service.


Chiang Mai hosts inaugural National Transgender Meeting

Andy Archer
The 1st National Transgender Meeting in Thailand, chaired by Nattee Terrarojjanapong, was held at the Royal Peninsular Hotel in Chiang Mai on September 14. The event, entitled, ‘What type of transgender do you want to be?’ was sponsored by the Podology Center MFT, recently opened in San Sai, Chiang Mai by Dirk and Wuttipong Weeber-Arayatumsopon.

Nattee Terrojjanapongs (2nd left) with the other speakers at the meeting.

In his introductory speech, Nattee expressed his hope that the meeting would be the first step in a process which would eventually lead to equality for transgenders in Thailand. Next to speak was Dirk who, as president of the human rights organization Thailandfreunde e. V., stated his desire to concentrate on building a bridge between Europe and Thailand. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, and emphasised that his dream was that transgenders in the kingdom would no longer be subject to discrimination. He also suggested that, on passports, as well as “Mr,” Mrs” and Miss,” there should be a class “T,” denoting transgender.
A speech by Dr Kriengsak Jitvatcharanun, advisor to the Thai government on transgender issues, followed. Having noted the That Medical Council’s rules and regulations regarding the procedure, Dr Kriengsak gave details about castration and its after- and side-effects. He explained that, although there are physiologists and psychologists available to discuss all aspects of the procedure, patients should realise they have to make the decision themselves, in the full knowledge that the operation is irreversible.
The final speaker of the meeting was Preempreeda Pramoj na Ayutthaya, who stated that her research had identified 5 differing types of transgenders (katoey), including those who wish to actually become women, those who wish to look like women but keep their organs for sexual purposes and those whose only wish is to be beautiful. Preempreeda stressed that transgenders feel that they are discriminated against in the Thai employment market, and that she felt international media misrepresented them by only quoting those who frequent the bar scene. She reported that many transgenders now feel the need for a national organisation which takes care of and protects their interests.
After the speeches, three transgenders present at the meeting were welcomed and shared with the audience their personal experiences. Nattee rounded off the meeting with his thanks to all attendees of this first meeting. A pilot project aimed at disseminating information about transgenders is being considered, to be held at several specially chosen Chiang Mai educational establishments. Dr Kriengsak will put forward a paper to the Ministry of Education and Health which will hopefully result in funds for the project.


“Engineers without Borders” students provide sustainable water to Lahu villagers

CMM Reporters
The Villanova University, Pennsylvania, chapter of Engineers without Borders travelled to Chiang Mai province recently with the aim of providing two remote Lahu villages and an orphanage with a sustainable source of water, both for drinking and agricultural purposes. The trip, which followed an initial earlier visit to determine needs and plan solutions, involved 10 engineering students and two professors from the university’s Faculty of Engineering, all of whom volunteered.
During their time in the villages, the volunteers installed a new filtration system, built a 4,000 liter break pressure and distribution tank, constructed tap stands and buried over one kilometre of pipe to bring drinkable water from a distant stream. The students also educated the villagers on how to maintain and use the new systems. Fresh and plentiful water, it is hoped, will lead to increased agricultural production and more income, which will allow the orphanage to house more children.
Senior student Sarah Arscott described the communities as being welcoming and grateful for the project, and said that many people had willingly joined in the work. On its completion, a party was thrown for the young engineers and their professors. Sarah confirmed that the group had enjoyed themselves enormously, in spite of not being able to talk with the villagers, either in Thai or in Lahu. Many lessons were learned as a result of the project, including that of using local knowledge to modify the students’ original designs. Senior Ashley Ferguson described the trip as “absolutely incredible” and “truly rewarding,” and recounted new experiences such as taking bucket showers and watching bug fights, as well as “learning new uses for a rubber band and all the games you can play with it.” Overall, she said she built “amazing relationships with the community.”
The trip was funded by a combination of private donors, corporate sponsors, the engineering alumni society, the College of Engineering and student fundraising. Because of their work throughout the year, the students were able to raise enough money to cover 90 percent of the costs for the trip, including the flights.


Drunken teenager vandals throwing rocks choose wrong target

CMM Reporters
A group of Phayao teenage vandals went on the rampage in the early hours of September 14 after a heavy drinking session. Having decided to throw rocks at passing vehicles, one lucky lad landed his rock in the right rear window of a Mazda van, shattering it. The group then dispersed in a hurry, thus missing one vital piece of information which became all too clear very soon – the van was being driven by Pol. Cap. Nirut Luangdang, a Deputy Inspector in Payao’s Investigation Group. As if that wasn’t tough enough for the young criminals, the passenger in the van was Pol. Col. Sutheera Punnabut, the Regional Deputy Commander of the Payao police.
Not surprisingly, the gang of 8, were soon found hiding in a road shelter and other unreliable refuges, and were arrested in short order by Phayao police. On questioning, they admitted to not only throwing rocks, but also marbles and table legs, and placing pieces of wood in the road with the intent of causing accidents. They also admitted to being extremely drunk. All were charged with vandalising property, and are probably still cursing their bad luck. Police 8, vandals 0.


Floods update – 6 more die, trains paralysed, 36 provinces affected

Elena Edwards
At the end of a very wet week, Thailand’s Meteorological department warned that the unusually high level of rainfall is set to continue, and issued more flood warnings for 29 provinces in the north, north east and central areas of the kingdom. Many areas are already badly hit, with food shortages, illness, injuries, loss of life and damage to agricultural land and properties.
In the north-east last Friday, floods caused by heavy rain paralysed transportation networks and washed away rail tracks in the Khon Kaen area. All train services from the city to Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Khai and Udon Thani have been suspended for safety reasons until the situation improves. The Mitraparb Highway bridge in Ban Haed was swept away and major areas of the road were flooded, causing traffic chaos.
Reports that Khon Kaen municipality had failed to open a sluice gate causing severe flooding in Ban Ped were met with denials by the city’s deputy mayor, who insisted that the gate, although not fully open, had been left ajar. Residents in flooded areas are being forced to travel by boat.
The Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima province has been declared a disaster area, with one person missing as raging flood waters deluged more than 300 homes. The town itself and surrounding villages have also been inundated with flood waters, and the local dam is nearing full capacity. In Tak province, on the Burmese border, a flash flood inundated a village, damaging farmlands and crops and leaving at least 50 homes under water. In Phetchaburi, flash floods from nearby hills covered roads to a depth of 60 cms, leaving many vehicles stranded and roads impassable. The rising water inundated communities in the Tha Phon municipal area; sandbags were passed out to residents in an effort to minimise damage to homes.
In the south, a national park in Surat Thani was closed for safety reasons, to prevent the possible recurrence of a tragic accident in 2007 when 8 people drowned after having been trapped in a cave by rising waters.
In Lopburi municipality, local residents were evacuated to temporary shelters after their homes were flooded and emergency supplies of drinking water, food and medicines were distributed by boat. As a result of continuous rainfall and inadequate run-off, flood waters were as much as 2 metres deep in places, and affected more than 500 homes. Local residents already suffering from waterborne diseases have threatened to withhold tax payments in protest against the lack of action by the authorities. In Lampang, although the waters are subsiding at present, 250 homes need repairs and the removal of mud and debris.
In Phitsanulok, 4,000 acres of agricultural land flooded after a local river overflowed its banks, with three districts being declared disaster zones. An emergency relief budget has been allocated. Local residents are suffering from flu-like infections and shortages of food and drinking water. HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has ordered the distribution of 1,500 relief kits to residents in Wang Thong, Muang and Noen Maprang districts. Mukdahan province experienced 4 days of flooding, with 14 roads destroyed and homes damaged. In Loei province, communities along the Loei River were flooded to a depth of between 2 and 5 metres, with 460 houses, public parks and a stadium under water.
In the central province of Ayutthaya, low-lying areas along the Pasak River have been hit by floods, forcing local residents to move their belongings and themselves to higher ground. In Uttaradit province, 13 people have contracted leptospirosis, resulting in one death. Officials have warned residents to avoid walking in flooded areas due to the risk of disease.
In Prachinburi, 300 residents in flooded homes are without drinking water, and in Phichit, run-off from the Phetchaburi mountain range inundated villages in its path. A 72 year old Pitchit woman died as she was trying to move her belongings to higher ground. Local reports suggest 4 more deaths in Nong Bua Lamphu. In Nong Bua Lamphu municipality, forest run-off affected 8 communities, 400 acres of agricultural land, the city’s outer ring road and a rice mill.
In Mae Hong Son last Friday, a flash flood from a local klong swept away a motorcyclist and his female passenger, who is presumed dead.
The floods have affected 12 north-eastern provinces, 13 northern provinces, 4 central provinces, 6 eastern provinces and 1 in the south, and have caused damage estimated at approximately 700 million baht. 750,000 rai of land has been affected, as have 2.7 million farm animals, according to the Minister of Agriculture, Somsak Prissanananthakul.



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