NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Northern mountain areas hit by Big Freeze

Storm brewing over retirement visas

Still no prosecution in tragic death of 54 Myanmar migrants

Chiang Mai hosts Big Bike Week 2008

Mae Hong Son introduces new marketing strategy for OTOP products

Arson and gunfire attack on Chiang Rai meditation centre

Special operation to prevent bird flu outbreak launched in 9 provinces

Gov’t to file civil, criminal charges against protesters

Airport closure a bigger blow to Thai tourism than tsunami

Working committees set up for new Doi Saket garbage disposal plant

Chiang Mai Shan community donates blood in dedication to His Majesty the King

A successful first year for the Giving Trust

 

Northern mountain areas hit by Big Freeze

Extra budget allowance requested for blankets and warm clothes

Khajohn Boonpath
In Mae Hong Son, 4 districts have been declared disaster areas after the mean temperature fell below 15 degrees Celsius for 3 full days and nights. Approximately 120,000 residents are suffering from the cold, with the local administration organizations providing blankets to only 70,000.
The governor of the province has requested a budget allocation from the Mae Hong Son Disaster Prevention and Relief Office in order to be able to supply the remaining 50,000 residents with blankets. Meanwhile, the governor, with the local Red Cross, Tambon Pangmoo’s administrative organization and the Disaster Prevention and Relief Office, presented blankets and warm clothes to 115 households at Baan Pakha-lo.

 

Storm brewing over retirement visas

CMM reporters
A report has come in from a retiree, a single man with no dependents in Thailand, who last week, applied, as usual, to Chiang Mai Immigration for a one year extension to his ‘retirement’ visa. The application was supported by the required letter from the UK consulate certifying the adequacy of his UK company pension paid in sterling to his UK bank account, and transferred as needed to Thailand.
Immigration refused his application on the grounds that the present unfavourable pound sterling - baht exchange rate gave an amount of less than the required 800,000 baht. Until the recent drop in the value of sterling, the applied exchange rate would have covered the legal requirements for an extension.
A representation has been made to Chiang Mai Immigration, who have replied that, although they have personal sympathy for affected retirees, they are only allowed to calculate in Thai baht the total amount as required by Thai immigration law. They suggest that more information may be obtained at www.immigration.go.th.
There has been no suggestion that the three-month deposit rule may be waived for retirees who find that they now need to top up their capital in a Thai bank to allow for a drop in the value of their pensions or other income.
We would advise those who are due to renew their permission to stay within the next several months, and are basing their application on either a pension or a combination of income and capital (whatever Western currency is involved), that they should check and confirm that they will not be affected by this decision. The alternative would be to revert to a Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visa, which has less stringent financial requirements, although it does require 90 day visa runs to Mae Sai.
It seems unfortunate that at least three months notice was not given by the Bangkok Immigration authorities in order that retirees here for the long-term could rearrange their finances.
Please also note that new regulations recently announced require that new applicants for ‘retirement’ visas must now show 800,000 baht or its equivalent in capital and income for two months prior to their application.


Still no prosecution in tragic death of 54 Myanmar migrants

The tragic death of 54 illegal Myanmar migrants from suffocation in a seafood container in Ranong province eight months ago has drawn great attention to the plight of Myanmar job seekers, who are willing to risk their lives in search of what they believe to be a better life. Yet eight months on ... the prosecution of the smugglers has proven no easy task.
A Thai cemetery became the unwanted destination of those ill-fated Myanmar migrants who died of suffocation while crammed in an unventilated seafood container in April 2008. Although 66 survivors in the same vehicle have become witnesses during the investigation, their smugglers have yet to be brought to justice.
According to a report by the Department of Special Investigation or DSI, migrant worker smuggling gangs in Ranong, just opposite the Myanmar shoreline, are a thriving business, with about 12 Thai smuggling syndicates working closely together. The criminal networks have become more powerful by using violence against those who turn against them.
“As the trial went on, our witness was shot dead. The gangs used violence to threaten the migrant workers,” said Pol Lt-Col Pongin Inthornkao, a DSI investigator.
Because of a legal loophole, 8 people accused in the April 10 suffocation tragedy were filed only with a light charge - providing shelter for illegal migrants and causing death to other persons by recklessness. The 66 Myanmar survivors meanwhile were charged with illegal entry.
“A charge of recklessness causing death to a person can’t lead to the seizure of the assets of any wrongdoer under the money laundering bill,” said Thanu Eakchote, a lawyer of the Myanmar survivors.
Although a new law to strictly prevent human trafficking was enforced in mid 2008, law-enforcement agencies express concern it might not bring wrongdoers to conviction as the new law can be enforced only if a forced labour case occurs.
The tragic April 2008 death of the Myanmar illegal migrants was not the first time it’s happened. Since 2007, at least 92 Myanmar migrants have died, while an unknown number have been smuggled into the kingdom. But despite an uncertain fate awaiting them at their destination, it seems unlikely to deter Myanmar migrants from fleeing poor conditions in their homeland in search of a better life. (TNA)


Chiang Mai hosts Big Bike Week 2008

Throngs of bikers, celebrities and some gleaming motorcycles descended
on Chiang Mai last weekend for the famous Big Bike Week 2008.

Andy Archer
Pottering gently around town on your little 125cc Honda last week, it was impossible not to notice that it was Big Bike Week again in Chiang Mai. On December 6 and 7, members of the North Comets MC Club celebrated not only the club’s 10th anniversary, but also its 8th year of sponsorship of the Big Bike Week.
This year, Medhi Wattanasiriroj has taken over the presidency of the North Comets from Nick Baur, ex-GM of the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. For those who may not realise this, it’s the club’s policy to promote anti-drugs, anti-drink driving and, most importantly, the wearing of helmets.
The Sirinart Hotel was this year’s venue for the Grand Opening Party, with its large car parking area taken over completely by displays of ‘famous name’ glamorous bikes, and stalls selling everything you need to make your very own (possibly a lot smaller) bike equally glamorous. Sadly, though, the even more glamorous ladies on show with the mouth-watering silver machines were as unattainable as most of the big bikes.
This year’s theme was ‘Old School Choppers and Antique Motorcycles,’ with exhibitors including Harley Davidson, Yamaha, KTM and Kawasaki. The Britbike Company Ltd. (the sole distributor of British bikes in Northern Thailand) together with Niyom Panich, were on hand, celebrating the 1st anniversary of the Triumph dealership on Nimmanhaemindha Road with a street party outside the showroom.
On December 7, having hopefully recovered from the night of December 6, many of the bikers went on a charity bike run around Chiang Mai. This year’s beneficiaries are Pong Yeang Village and Wat Don Chan, a temple just outside the city near the superhighway, which houses and educates over 500 kids. Various other runs of varying length and terrain were arranged for the intrepid bikers, including the 3-4 day ‘Golden Triangle’ run, around (and up and down) the mountainous far North of the Kingdom.
One sour note was heard this year. Due to the immediate effect of the changes in ‘visas on arrival’ at land border crossings announced just before the start of Big Bike Week, it was reported that some bikers who had arrived at such crossings expecting to be given 30-day permission to stay were only issued with 15 days. This, it was said, had upset bikers’ plans for longer term travel in and around Thailand after the end of Big Bike Week.
Our reporter could not establish how many bikers were affected, but it has to be said that thousands of national and international visitors attend this event, many travelling overland to Thailand on their bikes, or driving vehicles carrying their bikes. Given the dearth of tourists here in the North during this ‘high season,’ the numbers involved in this annual and well publicised event, and its very nature, would it not have been possible for the immigration authorities to have taken such travellers into account, or at least given more notice of the changes?

Tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan and wife Natalie, 4th & 3rd left,
showed up with the Immortals Motorcycle Club.

There were many gleaming custom bikes
on show for the motorcycle enthusiasts to enjoy.

The prettiest bikes attract the prettiest girls.

It wasn’t all about bikes: Lole, Terry, Bengt and Gary (right) enjoy some liquid refreshment outside the Sirinart Garden Hotel.


Mae Hong Son introduces new marketing strategy for OTOP products

OTOP products on display in Mae Hong Son.

Khajohn Boonpath
A regrading of Mae Hong Son’s ‘One Tambon, one Product’ (OTOP) items took place on November 20, with 86 products passing the selection criteria, most of which were clothing, food, souvenirs, beverages and herbs.
The hottest 5-star OTOP products are decorative items that imitate mythical animals, which are manufactured in a Thai Yai village in Tha Pong Dang. The product is made of aluminum which is lavishly engraved on its surface, and has attracted high demand from overseas buyers.
The Mae Hong Son deputy governor, Wichian Jantararotai, remarked that, “4 and 5 star products have been successfully promoted by the government via its website, with top-grade products being recognized by buyers worldwide. However, 1 and 2 star OTOP products need to be improved in order to become better known in the international marketplace.”
The province plans to promote OTOP products through exposure at well- known tourist venues, such as walking street markets and hotels, which attract international buyers.


Arson and gunfire attack on Chiang Rai meditation centre

CMM Reporters
A statement made recently in Chiang Mai by Lt. Gen. Wanathip Wongwaibegan, 3rd Army chief, in which he emphasised his concerns about the threat from Northern area supporters of ex PM Thaksin Shinawatra, precluded an attack carried out in Chiang Rai on a local meditation centre by unidentified group of armed men. The meditation centre had been identified as housing anti-government sympathisers, and contained a local radio station which had been used to send out pro-PAD transmissions.
Neither Phra Duangdee Thitapunyo, who oversees the centre, nor the worshippers who were inside at the time, received injuries from the gunfire, but a water tank was badly damaged. Witnesses reported that a pick-up truck containing 4 men had been seen in the area before the attack took place.
It has been suggested that the reason behind the attack might have been the attendance at the Bangkok PAD rally of several of the centre’s members and the broadcasting of anti-government material from the centre’s radio station.
A previous attack had taken place December 3, during which Phra Duangdee’s living quarters were set on fire. After the attack, Phra Duangdee was quoted as saying, “Let them shoot and burn. We will not react.”
Local government supporters have denied any involvement in the arson attack, whilst a member of the meditation centre has speculated that the water tank was damaged in this latest incident so that if another arson attack was to take place, the resulting blaze would not be able to be put out.


Special operation to prevent bird flu outbreak launched in 9 provinces

As neighbouring Cambodia now faces an outbreak of bird flu, Thailand’s Livestock Development Department has launched a special operation to prevent the reappearance of the potentially deadly virus in nine provinces, in an attempt to restore consumer confidence.
Maj-Gen. Sanan Kajornprasart, deputy prime minister and also acting minister of agriculture and cooperatives, said that from December 15 to 20, the department’s teams will disinfect farms in nine lower northern provinces and instruct farm families to separate all poultry from human habitations as a preventative measure against avian influenza.
The nine provinces considered most at risk are Sukhothai, Uthai Thani, Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, Nakhon Sawan, Kampaeng Phet, Pichit, Phetchabun and Tak.
Gen. Sanan said that the operation was an attempt to prevent the spread of bird flu virus to other provinces.
Sukhothai and Uthai Thani will be under a special, closer watch because there have been cases reported there in the past. Health officials detected the H5N1 strain of bird flu in a dead fowl in Sukhothai’s Thung Salium district in late October. Also, a number of birds were found dead from unknown causes in Nong Chang district of Uthai Thai province in mid-November.
Veterinarian Yukol Limlaemthong, acting director-general of the livestock department, said that the department’s technical staff will also inform rural families regarding self-preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Dr. Yukol also advised villagers in the nine at-risk provinces that cockfighting should be avoided during this period.
When asked whether to use bird flu vaccine to control the outbreak, Dr. Yukol said that he was not sure if the vaccine would be effective, as it has been used in Hong Kong during the past six years, but poultry was still recently found carrying the bird flu virus. (TNA)


Gov’t to file civil, criminal charges against protesters

The caretaker cabinet has vowed to file both civil and criminal charges against the protesters who occupied the Government House for a period of three months and inflicted damage to the building surrounds as well as allegedly stealing property.
Government spokesman Natthawut Saikuea told a press conference last week that the committee tasked with inventorying the assets of the Government House, or personal effects stolen or missing during the occupation by People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters, had reported to the Cabinet that about Bt25 million is needed to repair the landscaping and gardens in front of the main building.
Several vehicles and spare tyres are still missing along with computer note books. Many of the these computer note books are now found sold in front of the Education Ministry, near Government House, and at Klong Thom, a popular place among shoppers of used items, said Natthawut.
He said the protesters still had not paid more than Bt452,000 and Bt2.27 million on water and electricity bills, used during their occupation between August 26-December 3, he said.
Natthawut said the cabinet had assigned lawyers to review courses of action with the Attorney General’s Office and police investigators on the possibility of filing both civil and criminal charges against the PAD protesters.
Concerned government agencies have also been assigned by the Cabinet to conclude damage assessments resulting from the seizure of Government House and Bangkok’s two airports by the protesters, he said. The information will be forwarded to the Administrative Court as well. (TNA)


Airport closure a bigger blow to Thai tourism than tsunami

CMM Reporters
In spite of the reopening of Suvarnabhumi International Airport on December 5, here in Chiang Mai it is being reported that hotel bookings are at an all-time low and cancellations are at an all-time high. Occupancy rates at some luxury hotels in the city have fallen from a high of 70% in the same period of 2007 to single figures in 2008, with employees facing cuts in their working days as managers try to reduce their operating costs without being forced to lay off trained staff.
Overall, the eight-day closure of Bangkok’s airports has had a bigger impact on the hospitality sector countrywide than the tsunami. A forecast by the Thai Hotels Association suggests that the slowdown will continue until at least the beginning of the 3rd quarter, with small and medium sized hotels bearing the brunt and a 30% loss in hotel jobs.


Working committees set up for new Doi Saket garbage disposal plant

CMM Reporters
Chiang Mai’s provincial administration organization (PAO), recently announced its allocation of 465 million baht from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to set up a working committee on garbage management as part of the administration’s pilot project on garbage segregation and bio-fertiliser production.
The project is under the chairmanship of the Chiang Mai deputy governor, who stated that the main committee will be supported by 6 sub-committees. Before the Doi Saket-based garbage disposal facility runs its pilot operation, the public will be fully informed about the project.
The plant will be dealing with garbage from 4 districts, Doi Saket, San Sai, San Kampaeng and Mae On. The Chiang Mai PAO will administer the facility, with local administration organisations being responsible for the collection of garbage in their own areas and its delivery to the facility.
The deputy governor explained that the main committee will be in charge for the duration of the pilot project, and will provide solutions to any problems which may arise, as well as evaluating the plant’s performance and planning its administrative structure. The project itself has been trialed in 2 phases, with workers from local villages being trained in garbage management.
The deputy governor stated that, “Chiang Mai PAO is giving priority to people in terms of lifestyle and economics. If the facility produces a high income, this will have to be generated as a fund for infrastructure improvement, adding to the PAO’s 20 million baht infrastructure improvement budget already allocated.”
The environmental effects of the facility will be high on the committee’s agenda, with experts from Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Engineering supervising the project along with the working committees.


Chiang Mai Shan community donates blood in dedication to His Majesty the King

Hseng Khio Fah
The Shan community in Chiang Mai, led by the Workers Solidarity Association (WSA) donated blood at the Provincial Red Cross Chapter on December 5, in dedication to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 81st birthday. Over 70 Shan people wearing traditional clothes prayed for his Majesty’s health and well-being along with a group of Thai people at Wat Ku Tao. They then assembled at the Red Cross to donate their blood.

Members of the Shan community donate blood to the Chiang Mai Provincial Red Cross on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s 81st birthday.

“We donated our blood to repay our debt of gratitude to His Majesty for being allowed to live under his protection,” said Sai Yawd, secretary of the WSA, continuing that, “On behalf of the Shan people, we are cleansing the guilt we feel because some of our people have made problems in our host country. As a result, some Thai people may see us all as bad people. So, we would like to show that we are also doing good things in order to promote their sympathy and understanding.”
According to a migrant worker, the Shan people were not allowed to donate blood in the past because they were migrants. However, on this day the local authorities and the Red Cross’ officers warmly welcomed the group to join the donation.
Surochai Longrak, secretary of Chiang Mai’s Red Cross Chapter, said, “I am very happy to see people who are struggling to make better livelihoods under the protection of His Majesty, paying respect to him and showing their love for him. And they are also showing that they love our country as much as we do. I really appreciate it.”
He added that, “His Majesty and the royal family are very kind to every race that lives in Thailand and have no discrimination against any race.”
“I am very happy that I have been able to repay His Majesty’s favour to us,” said a Shan worker during the donation. “We would also like to set this as a precedent for all the Shans here in Thailand.”
The group later joined other Shans from different organizations at the 81st Anniversary Commemoration of His Majesty, held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Chiang Mai Provincial Office.


A successful first year for the Giving Trust

George Powell
The Giving Trust, founded in 2007 to bring awareness of the needy to those with a desire to help, has celebrated its first anniversary after a successful inaugural year.

Richard Colburn, pictured outside his company’s new offices.

The trust was set up by Richard Colburn, MD of Sterling Assets Co., Ltd. and provides online contact details and links for local Chiang Mai charities, particularly those without an online presence, through a dedicated website, www.thegivingtrust .org. 24 charities are at present represented free of charge, including the Vienping Orphanage, Lanna Dogs and the Chiang Mai Charity Calendar.
The Giving Trust does not accept representation in any of its featured good causes and neither does it accept donations on their behalf; the website allows potential donors to contact their chosen charity directly.
Richard, a UK qualified financial advisor and accountant and also a regular contributor to the Bangkok Post’s financial planning and investment columns, explained to the Chiang Mai Mail: “I feel very fortunate to be living here so we decided to make a very tangible commitment to Chiang Mai. We bought our office building just off Nimmanhaemindha Road and set up ‘The Giving Trust’ website to give something back to our host community in Chiang Mai.”
If any reader knows of a good cause and would like to add them to the Giving Trust’s website, please email the details to [email protected] thegivingtrust.org.