Vol. VII No. 46 - Tuesday
November 11 - November 17, 2008



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Global House totally destroyed by raging fire

San Sai pro-government protest sparks national repercussions and concerns

City afloat with Loy Krathong festivities

Northern farmers call for political peace, rejecting coup rumours

International environmental seminar provokes Mayor’s comments

CMU dean anticipates another coup

US and Thai military forces hold joint training exercises

Pro-government protestors besiege Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel

Japanese Government gives grant assistance to Mae Hong Son hospital

The Mayor gives two thumbs up for upcoming ASEAN Summit

Northern floods disrupt train traffic at Phrae

Truth Today show to head for Chiang Mai

 

Global House totally destroyed by raging fire

Thick black smoke billows up from the ill fated warehouse,
sending people running for their lives.

Saksit Meesubkwang
The Chiang Mai branch of Global House in Saraphi was totally destroyed last Friday when fire broke out at 10 a.m. in the roof area of the store and spread to cans of thinner and paint stacked below, causing it to rage through the building at an incredible speed.
At least 40 fire engines raced to the scene, but frequent explosions and the fierceness of the flames prevented them from stopping the spread of the fire across the entire building. The about 250 employees at the store, after attempting to use fire extinguishers and trying to save some of the stock, were forced to run for their lives, together with a number of early shoppers. There have been no reports of injuries amongst the staff or shoppers, although a side wall of the building is reported to have collapsed onto a fire engine, injuring two firemen.
An employee stated he saw the fire start when a spark flew from a welding torch being used by a worker attempting to repair an air-conditioning unit, and said that the plastic wrapper of the ceiling thermal insulator had quickly caught fire, with the flames spreading to nearby areas containing highly combustible material. The building has now partially collapsed, and has been declared a hazardous zone. Damage to and loss of stock is estimated at between 2 and 3 billion baht, and the building itself cost approximately 500 million baht. Police have since confirmed the source of the blaze.
Withoon Suriyawanakul, the store’s owner, was in Khon Kaen when the fire broke out, and has since returned to Chiang Mai. He stated that his employees would not be laid off as a result of the disaster.

 

San Sai pro-government protest sparks national repercussions and concerns

Protestors gather outside the premises of the TPBS in San Sai.

CMM Reporters
Another siege by political faction protestors took place in San Sai on Monday November 3, when a group of approximately 200 members of the red-shirted pro-government Rak Chiang Mai 51 group descended on the Thai Public Services Broadcasting’s premises, intent on its occupation. Tents were set up, a truck with bottled water arrived, as did a lorry equipped with toilet facilities, and local food stalls moved in. A sound system was installed, and was soon broadcasting music and speeches. Around 50 local police were sent to the venue; shortly afterwards the road was closed and protestors were seen at the junction with highway 118 waving flags at passing motorists.
A spokesman for the protestors told reporters and bystanders that the protest had been mounted against TPBS because of the outrage caused to his group by the TV station’s alleged payments of 2,000 baht to 200 Rak Chiang Mai 51 group members to travel to Bangkok and attend a rally held by the Truth Today talk show, at which a phone-in from ex PM Thaksin Shinawatra was the major feature. The group demanded a public on-screen apology, according to a prepared script, from Thepchai Yong, the TPBS’s director, and from the news-reader, and threatened to cut off power and water supplies and remain in the building if it was not forthcoming. Wichaiwat Somkham, the head of the San Sai office, ordered the evacuation of the majority of the staff as a precaution.
At a later meeting, attended by Thepchai as requested by the protestors, it was agreed that an on-screen apology would be made the same evening. It was explained that the news report was produced in Bangkok without the source being known to the Chiang Mai staff. The reconciliation resulted in a broadcast being made at 11 p.m. in which an apology was made by Thepchai, by which time the protestors had left the premises.
The following day, having been dissatisfied with the apology as given, the protestors planned to return, but abruptly called off the further protest. A source stated that pressure from provincial authorities and a senior military official forced the group to reconsider. Later the same day, Phetchawat Watthanaphongsirikul, Rak Chiang Mai 51’s leader, gave a press conference, stating that he was still unhappy with the apology, deeming it “insincere” and required another, which has since been given. Legal proceedings were threatened by the protestors, as was further occupation of the premises later in the week.
The deputy governor of Chiang Mai has expressed his concern about the negative effects of the protest on the city during the upcoming tourist season and the ASEAN Summit, and has asked that the protestors reconsider any further planned action. An official from the Democratic Party has suggested that the protestors should be prosecuted, and the Thai Journalist’s Association is unhappy that “media members are again being threatened as a result of political conflicts within the country.” TPBS staff in Bangkok have formally asked PM Somchai for police protection, as they feel that the threat to their safely is now real.


City afloat with Loy Krathong festivities

Tens of thousands of residents and tourists are enjoying perhaps the most anticipated, and certainly the most romantic holiday on the Thai calendar: Loy Krathong. Activities are being held throughout the city, and indeed throughout the Kingdom. So, buy or build a biodegradable krathong and bring your loved one to the river, or wherever there is water, and float your troubles away.


Northern farmers call for political peace, rejecting coup rumours

CMM Reporters
The Northern Farmers’ Alliance has teamed up with lecturers from Chiang Mai University and the Midnight University to state their opposition to what they regard as a “silent coup,” and to urge for justice and equality in the kingdom.
The group regards the current political conflict as a divergence between opposing political factions which is mainly due to bias on both sides. The current conflict has grown without rationality, triggered violent incidents which should not have occurred in the kingdom, and caused fears of another coup. They also state that the 2007 constitution was created by the military coup’s members without any participation by the electorate. Political reform should promote social equality and economical justice and should not be undertaken solely for the benefit of specific factions. Constitutional revision should involve public participation, and not rely solely on the mechanism of government.
The Alliance presented their objection towards any coup or movement which could lead to rebellion. They also emphasized the value of democracy and refuted any moves intended to create hatred and violence. They stated that political reform should solve the problems of poorer members of society, a majority amongst the Thai peoples, and promote proper welfare such as health insurance and provision, education and infrastructure. The basic problems of farmers include land ownership, land reform by community, debt liberation, natural resource management, crop subsidies, progressive tax collection, the amendment of article 291 of the 2007 constitution and the appointment of the Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand. The Alliance also urged the Constitution Drafting Council to promote public participation and provide space on the council for people from various walks of life, including farmers. The group affirmed its strong support for political reform.


International environmental seminar provokes Mayor’s comments

Guests of honour attending the opening ceremony in Chiang Mai of the International Conference on Sustainable Urban Environmental Practices.

Saksit Meesubkwang
An environmental seminar was held October 28 in Chiang Mai, attended by academics, experts, NGOs, representatives of local organisations countrywide and delegates from 11 countries, including Australia, Canada, India, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Japan. The emphasis of the meeting, jointly organised by Mae Fah Luang University, Chiang Mai municipality and other concerned organisations, was on finding solutions to environmental threats posed by increasing urbanisation.
Following the meeting, Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai, the city’s Mayor, focused on 3 major aspects of sustainable environmental management, urbanization and land use, which may result in effective resolutions for environmental pollution issues. She placed considerable emphasis on the provision of green and clean cities for residents, and said that close cooperation with government and private sectors had resulted in an improvement in Chiang Mai’s environmental quality. For example, the case of the Mae Kha canals was effectively resolved by considering water resources for the needs of households in the immediate area of the canals’ banks. She considers that the municipality is still facing challenges in the area of effective management of air and water pollution, and would like to see more environmental awareness and participation from local communities, together with awareness of the law. In this manner, solutions to the present deadlock may well be arrived at, according to the Mayor.


CMU dean anticipates another coup

Midnight Uni’s rector disagrees

CMM Reporters
Dr. Somkiat Tangnamo, the dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Chiang Mai University, considers that the political deadlock in Thailand is reaching a critical stage which will only be able to be resolved by another military coup.
Speaking at a recent talk held at CMU’s Women’s Studies Centre, Dr. Somkiat anticipated the recurrence of a coup, to happen after November 15, but which he considered will be of short duration due to military leaders’ inability and unwillingness to manage the resultant chaotic social issues. Dr. Somkiat continued, “Once the first coup happens, another group will try to raise a rebellion in an attempt to retain and protect the military institute.” He urged the public to be vigilant regarding the political changes.
However, Somchai Preechasilpakul, rector of Chiang Mai-based Midnight University, considers that a coup is unlikely, due to the current political state. He believes that reform of the Thai political system is likely as the current system does not allow all groups to speak their minds. “More people want to express their opinions, but local villagers do not have sufficient participation or resources allocation,” said the rector. The two possible changes would be the increase of bureaucratic polity and of public participation. Somchai is suggesting a style of politics which would promote public participation through an electoral system in which the voice of the people outweighs the wishes of the few.
Atthajak Sattayanurak from CMU’s Faculty of Humanities also said that the current conflict in which two opposing factions each have a large group of supporters is unlikely to lead to a coup. “If a military coup takes place, another will follow shortly, and the second coup leader would gain more benefits than the first. The political chaos which would follow would also trigger a further decline in the country’s economy. Thus, the way out of this economic crash is to separate farmers and innocent people from both of the present warring factions,” said Atthajak.
On the same day, a group which refers to itself as the “King’s Musketeers,” burnt images of PM Somchai Wongsawat and exiled ex PM Thaksin Shinawatra in Chiang Mai. Led by Terdsak Jiamkitwattana, the group cited its dissatisfaction with Thaksin’s phone-in at Truth Today’s talk show rally, during which the ex PM is reported to have hinted at a Royal pardon for his recent conviction. The group considered Thaksin’s actions are an attack on and an insult to the monarchy.


US and Thai military forces hold joint training exercises

Col Ataphun Paoprajak and David Danic preside at the opening ceremony of Balance-Torch-09-1.

David Danic inspects the US troops taking part in the exercise.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A joint US-Thai military training exercise took place recently, under the code name “Balance-Torch-09-1,” in which the focus was on enhancing the military skills of the Thai army. The exercise was presided over by Col Ataphun Paoprajak, Commander of the 5th Battalion of the Special Forces Regiment and David Danic, a representative from the US Consulate in Chiang Mai. During the training, first-aid techniques were taught to the Thai battalion by US army representatives.
Following the 19-day training period, the Thai army engaged in exercises in forest and mountainous terrain combat techniques, using pack animals for transport of supplies and weapons. The theory and practice of the training period was seen to have tightened US-Thai relationships as well as improving the efficiency of the Thai army.


Pro-government protestors besiege Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel

Saksit Meesubkwang
More than 100 red-shorted members of the Rak Chiang Mai 51 group, representing the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, gathered recently in front of the Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel to protest against a meeting of Democrat Party executives’ schedules to take place the same day. Cardboard cut-outs of several of the key executives were displayed, and tight security was provided by 50 police officers.
Attending the regional meeting were Chuan Leekpai, chairman of the Advisory Committee, deputy leader Trirong Suwannakiri, party-general secretary Suthep Thuaugsuban and other key members, although the party’s leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was not reported to have attended. The protestors dispersed after the participants at the meeting departed for Bangkok. However, guests at the hotel were seriously disturbed by the protest, with some checking out as a result.


Japanese Government gives grant assistance to Mae Hong Son hospital

Pictured on the occasion of the signing of the funding contract is Junko Yokota, the Japanese Consul-General in Chiang Mai, with the director of the Sop Moie hospital, Mae Hong Son.

Elena Edwards
The Government of Japan, under its Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects Scheme (GGP) is providing funds amounting to 1,735,000 baht for a project entitled “Improving Medical Services for hill tribe people in remote areas in Mae Hong Son Province.”
On October 28, Junko Yokota, the Japanese Consul-General in Chiang Mai, together with the director of Sop Moie hospital in Mae Hong Son, signed the funding contract at the Japanese consulate in Chiang Mai.
Minority groups such as the Karen and Thai Yai hill tribes form the majority of residents in the mountainous areas of the province, living hard lives, often with no running water or electricity, and surviving by farming the poor ground of the hills. Often suffering from malnutrition, food poisoning, malaria and parasitic diseases, they endure extremes of temperature from summer to winter.
Sop Moie hospital is the only government-funded hospital in the area, and treats, on average, 200 patients per day. It provides treatment regardless of expense, as there are many refugees and stateless people in the area, living far below the poverty level. The hospital also provides a mobile clinic which visits patients in remote areas. The hospital has no operating room, and only has one ambulance to transport the seriously ill to the nearest fully equipped facility in Chiang Mai. In emergencies, a pick-up truck is being used for the purpose. Many patients lose vital treatment time in this way.
The grant assistance from Japan will be used to remedy this appalling situation by providing a second ambulance, together with life-support equipment; it is hoped that many patients will be provided with better chances of survival and recovery through this generous gift.


The Mayor gives two thumbs up for upcoming ASEAN Summit

Michael Davies
Last week, Dr Duentemduang na Chiengmai kindly agreed to give a statement about the ASEAN Summit, set to take place December 15-18, to the Chiang Mai Mail.

Dr Duentemduang
na Chiengmai

“I believe that Chiang Mai is able to accommodate and facilitate the ASEAN Summit in a very successful manner. Chiang Mai has been ready for highly important events of this kind for many years, and is a safe, secure and beautiful city.
This is a great opportunity for our city to be on the World Stage and to promote itself, especially in these difficult economic times. I have great hopes that the ASEAN Summit will encourage organisers of similar events to consider Chiang Mai as their venue. This, in turn, will help local businesses of all kinds.
Before the summit takes place, I intend to ensure that a clean-up and beautification of our city takes place, with attention to the placing of bushes and flowering plants in many appropriate areas. On behalf of the people of Chiang Mai, I would like to extend a warm welcome to the leaders and delegates from the ASEAN countries and other distinguished guests.”


Northern floods disrupt train traffic at Phrae

CMM Reporters
Portions of the Northern rail lines in Den Chai district were damaged and flooded on Sunday, with eight north-bound trains halted and unable to proceed, according to a senior official at the State Railways of Thailand (SRT).
SRT Northern officer director Charn Tansiri said no-one had been stranded, as SRT had provided 20 coaches to transport rail passengers from Uttaradit to Phrae. The service was resumed Monday when flood waters had receded and damaged tracks had been repaired.
Continuous rain triggered flash flooding in mountainous Den Chai district, with some areas are under metres-deep floodwater. Pongsak Plaivej, Phrae governor, and Somrit Wichaita, the head of the local disaster prevention and mitigation office, visited flood-hit areas and issued a warning for local residents living along the river to be prepared to move to higher ground if the rains continued.


Truth Today show to head for Chiang Mai

CMM Reporters
“Truth Today,” a controversial talk-show with the accent on pro-government political sentiments which broadcasts regularly on NBT, will take to the roads next week on a tour of the north and north-eastern provinces, in an attempt to encourage anti-coup support and reinforce the PPP’s position and the possibility of re-writing the 2007 constitution. The organisers of the show recently held a gathering in Bangkok at which convicted exPM Thaksin Shinawatra spoke by phone to the crowd, and expect to replay his comments at demonstrations in Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and, possibly, Khon Kaen. The tour will begin in Chiang Mai, on November 16.
During his Bangkok phone-in, Thaksin, sentenced recently to 2 years in prison and now resident in the UK, commented that he could only return to Thailand by the grace of His Majesty the King, fuelling rumours that he was considering asking for a Royal pardon at some stage in the future.
Reports that some community radio stations involved in the present political arguments are making comments which might be considered as lese-majesty have drawn a response from the military. The Defence Ministry are warning that any such stations which allow offensive material to be broadcast would face investigation and possible charges, and has asked the Thai media to assist in identification of possible offenders.



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