NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

HM the King asks new government to make peace its priority

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn awards degrees at Khon Kaen University

15 Mae Hong Son villages involved in illegal narcotics

New Year ‘Countdown’ festivities at Thapae Gate

International Red Cross delegate visits Mae Hong Son

Circulating counterfeit banknotes raises unease in markets

Garlic auction scheduled to improve prices to growers

Human error responsible for Global House fire

Shoplifter arrested at BTS, Kad Suan Kaew

One thousand new species found in Greater Mekong region

Chiang Mai Mayor expresses her New Years wishes for the city

 

HM the King asks new government to make peace its priority

In this photo released by the Royal Palace, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, standing front row, and his cabinet members listen to HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, left, during a swearing-in ceremony at Chitralada Palace in Bangkok Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/Royal Palace, HO)

Bangkok (AP) - HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Monday asked the new Cabinet to maintain stability and order. The revered monarch has called on the new government to make peace its priority after months of protests that divided the nation.
HM the King made the comments Monday at Chitralada Palace as he presided over a swearing-in ceremony for the 36-member Cabinet led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
In his brief address, His Majesty the King said, “If you (ministers) perform well, the country could maintain peace and this would be a blessing for the country. It is what Thai people wish for.”
HM the King then went on to say that all Thais wanted to see the country to stay in peace so that they can keep Thainess.
His comments came after months of silence about the turmoil in Thailand that included an eight-day blockade of Bangkok’s airports earlier this month.
Abhisit was elected by Parliament last week as Thailand’s third leader in four months.
By law, the coalition government under the ruling Democrat Party starts work immediately after undertaking the swearing-in ceremony.
Pledging that he would strictly follow HM the King’s advice, Abhisit later told journalists that he would try to bring unity back to the people so that Thais and foreigners would have confidence in Thailand but the efforts could “not be achieved without the cooperation of Thais nationwide.”
Abhisit said he and his cabinet wanted to assure everyone that the government would work for the benefit of the people “on the condition that people should help in building (the country).” (AP & TNA)

 

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn awards degrees at Khon Kaen University

The Princess is shown being greeted on her arrival by Pol Gen Pow Sarasin, president of Khon Kaen University Council, and Hon Prof Dr. Sumon Sakolchai, president of Khon Kaen University.

CMM Reporters
His Majesty the King graciously designated Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as his representative at a degree presentation held December 22, at Khon Kaen University. The much-loved princess awarded doctorate, master and bachelor degrees to all of this year’s 6,928 graduates, at the Golden Jubilee Convention Hall in Khon Kaen University campus.
During the ceremony, the university council also presented an honorary PhD in Clinical Science to Her Majesty the Queen, an honorary PhD in Information Education to Prof Robert D Stuart, an honorary doctorate degree in Public Administration (Local Administration) to Mr Somporn Klinpongsa, and an honorary doctorate degree in Science (Agricultural Business) to Mr Issara Wongkusolkitch. The Princess herself was presented with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Nursing.


15 Mae Hong Son villages involved in illegal narcotics

Khajohn Boonpath
A push to speed up the eradication of drug trafficking in Mae Hong Son during the 90 days from November 3 to January 31 was reviewed recently at a committee meeting headed up by the Governor of the province, Thongchai Wongrianthong. During the period, 15 villages in Pai, Khun Yuam, Pang Mapha and Mae Sariang districts were found to be repeatedly involved in narcotics trafficking. Several individuals were arrested, and measures for property seizures and further arrests are in progress.


New Year ‘Countdown’ festivities at Thapae Gate

A Lanna themed show will be held at Thapae Gate to welcome in the New Year.

Saksit Meesubkwang
At a recent press conference, the Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai announced that a New Year ‘Countdown’ would take place at Thapae Gate at the end of the year, and invited all ‘Kon Chiang Mai’, both Thai and Farang, to join in the festivities.
One of the aims of the event is to encourage Chiang Mai citizens to write down their wishes for 2009 and to bring them to Thapae Gate, ensuring that the New Year begins in an auspicious manner. A ceremony will be held to bless His Majesty the King, and to wish him a long life together with his people. Entertainment at the event will include many stars.
On New Year’s Eve itself, the ‘Countdown’ at Thapae Gate will begin at 7 p.m., with music from Payap University students, followed at 8.15 by Acapella 7 Band, with the ‘Tri Dheva N ramit’ (Dream of Angels) show beginning at 9 05.p.m. Afterwards, mini- concerts will be presented by Auto Barn, Zaza, Lanna and Bie the Star.
The countdown itself will start at 11.55.p.m, and at midnight everyone will be asked to pray, in silence, for peace and harmony throughout the kingdom in the New Year, and for the chaos of the past several months to be forgotten. Traditional Thai dancing will take place until the event concludes at12.30 a.m.
The Chiang Mai Mail would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year!


International Red Cross delegate visits Mae Hong Son

Saksit Meesubkwang
In the mountainous areas of Mae Hong Son, many villagers are still suffering from the fall in winter temperatures. The local Red Cross and Disaster Prevention and Relief office are providing blankets and warm clothing, but funds are limited and some areas a re difficult to reach.

The Red Cross and Disaster Prevention and Relief office donate blankets and warm clothing to villagers.
A visit to the area was made recently by a delegate from the International Committee of the Red Cross, (ICRC), Lucia Prieto Rios, who stated that she was impressed by the dedicated efforts of the mostly older members of the local branch, and promised to solicit more support from the international organisation. The ICRC, as an independent and non-biased organization, is also currently working to assist refugees along the Burmese-Thai border, but requires close cooperation with local organisations in the province in order to accomplish its mission.


Circulating counterfeit banknotes raises unease in markets

CMM Reporters
A recent central bank statement regarding the circulation of counterfeit 1,000 baht banknotes has led to problems with money transactions in local markets. Somchai Setakornnukul, a senior director with the Bank of Thailand (BoT), recently announced that from January until end of November 2008, a total of 18,895 duds were found, which in comparison to last year’s figure indicates an increase.
In the wake of the current economic turbulence, the news quickly caught the public’s attention and raised concerns about either accepting forged bills or inadvertently distributing them, thereby committing a crime. However, according to Criminal Law, Article 240, only people who deliberately use fake bank notes can be charged, and could face a maximum 15 years in jail. Traders, however, are not reassured.
The published figure suggests that, on average, there are 57 duds per 1 million bank notes, making the likelihood of coming into possession of one extremely low. However, worried ATM users are now careful when making a withdrawal of a thousand baht or more, splitting it into as many drafts of less than a thousand baht as necessary.
Apisak Tantivorawong, chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association (TBA), states that money withdrawn from ATM machines or bank counters is safe, as banknotes are thoroughly checked before being placed in ATMs, which should neither give out nor accept any false bills as they are equipped with electronic verification devices. Should a user have proof of receiving a fake bill from an ATM, the bank should exchange it for a valid one. In all other cases, people in possession of a fake bill are advised to file a complaint with the police.
Meantime, some market vendors have bought inspection tools to verify bills themselves, while others simply refuse to accept 1,000 baht bills, allegedly due to a lack of change, although merchants who reject bills without verifying them can be penalized according to a spokesman from the Metropolitan Police Bureau, who emphasized that banknotes were legal tender for all private and public debts.
Despite the small risk, people are reminded to pay closer attention to money transactions, especially during twilight when it is difficult to properly examine bills. Due to the public’s uncertainty, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has addressed the issue, urging all associated authorities to prioritize tackling the problem in order to restore consumer confidence, and has demanded that printers and distributors of counterfeit notes must be detected and brought to justice.
Meanwhile, a report from a senior Wa official has been circulating on and offline, stating that he promises full cooperation in detecting the forgers, as they are operating from within his community. He states that a previously convicted expert forger was recently released from prison.
A local police source on the Thai-Burmese border, interviewed last week on Channel 3 TV, said that the counterfeit notes were being manufactured by the Red Wa (a colloquial name for the United Wa State Army) and were being sold along the border for 350 baht each. A Thai security officer noted from a report that the fakes were entering Burma from China through Mongla, north of Mae Sai.
Duds can easily be distinguished from genuine bank notes, if the following is checked properly (see picture):
A) Held against light, the watermark of the King’s portrait is revealed.
B) Held against light, the translucent metallic thread becomes visible, indicating the value of the bank note.
C) The value numerals change color when viewed from different angles (only 500 and 1,000 baht notes).


Garlic auction scheduled to improve prices to growers

Khajohn Boonpath
More than two million tons of quality garlic has been scheduled for auction in an attempt to achieve better prices for growers in Mae Hong Son. Bids were requested to be submitted by December 23. The auction is an approved measure by the Mae Hong Son committee for agricultural products. The garlic, stored in warehouses and granaries, was available for inspection by interested parties. At present, local garlic growers in are preparing their land for nest season’s planting. However, no price controls have been enforced by the authorities, resulting in a fall in prices and local protests.


Human error responsible for Global House fire

Saksit Meesubkwang
Police forensic experts have reported that lack of awareness by a welder working in the roof area of the store caused the recent total destruction by fire of Global House, causing damage estimated at 800 million baht. The reports state that sparks from the worker’s welding torch fell onto and ignited highly inflammable material, after which the fire spread to the re remainder of the store. The interim report has been submitted to Sarapee District Police, and to the store’s owner. Further forensic investigations are continuing.


Shoplifter arrested at BTS, Kad Suan Kaew

Saksit Meesubkwang
An Australian national, Andrew Smith, 65, was arrested recently for stealing books worth 3,200 baht from BTS in Kad Suan Kaew, when the security alarm was triggered as he left the store. BTS staff prevented him from leaving the complex; on being searched, he was found to have stolen tourist guides to Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore and two Thai language books. He offered to pay in full, but was found to have only 500 baht in his possession.


One thousand new species found in Greater Mekong region

Cyanide millipede, huge spider among new discoveries

Report and photos WWF
Over a thousand new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia in just the last decade, according to a new report launched by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).

The Laotian rock rat is thought to have been extinct for more than 11 million years.
The study, titled “First Contact in the Greater Mekong”, reports that among the 1068 species newly identified by science between 1997 and 2007 were the world’s largest huntsman spider, with a leg span of 30 centimetres, and the startlingly hot pink coloured cyanide-producing “dragon millipede”.
While most species were discovered in the largely unexplored jungles and wetlands, some were first found in the most surprising places. The Laotian rock rat, for example, thought to be extinct 11 million years ago, was first encountered by scientists in a local food market, while the Siamese Peninsula pitviper was found slithering through the rafters of a restaurant in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.

Probably the world’s largest spider, Heteropoda maxima has a colossal legspan of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) and was discovered in a cave in northern Laos in 2001.
“This region is like what I read about as a child in the stories of Charles Darwin,” said Dr Thomas Ziegler, Curator at the Cologne Zoo. “It is a great feeling being in an unexplored area and to document its biodiversity for the first time… both enigmatic and beautiful,” he said.
The findings, highlighted in this report, include 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, 4 birds, 4 turtles, 2 salamanders and a toad. The region comprises the six countries through which the Mekong River flows including Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. It is estimated thousands of new invertebrate species were also discovered during this period, further highlighting the region’s immense biodiversity.

Desmoxytes purpurosea, or the dragon millipede is capable of shooting cyanide to ward off predators.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Stuart Chapman, Director of WWF’s Greater Mekong Programme. “We thought discoveries of this scale were confined to the history books. This reaffirms the Greater Mekong’s place on the world map of conservation priorities.”
The report stresses economic development and environmental protection must go hand-in-hand to provide for livelihoods and alleviate poverty, and ensure the survival of the Greater Mekong’s astonishing array of species and natural habitats.
“This poorly understood biodiversity is facing unprecedented pressure… for scientists, this means that almost every field survey yields new diversity, but documenting it is a race against time,” said Raoul Bain, Biodiversity Specialist from the American Museum of Natural History.
The report recommends what is urgently needed to protect the biodiversity of the region is a formal, cross-border agreement by the governments of the Greater Mekong.
“Who knows what else is out there waiting to be discovered, but what is clear is that there is plenty more where this came from,” said Chapman. “The scientific world is only just realizing what people here have known for centuries.”


Chiang Mai Mayor expresses her New Years wishes for the city

The Mayor of Chiang Mai, shown being presented with a birthday gift recently by Duenpen Chaladlam (Boong) on behalf of the Chiang Mai Friends’ Group.

George Powell
As the New Year approaches, the Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai, agreed to talk with the Chiang Mai Mail about her experiences of 2008 and her wishes for 2009.
CMM
: What do you consider were the highlights of 2008 for you?
Mayor:
In the year 2008, the important priorities of the Chiang Mai Municipality were the physical and social development of our city.  Green areas around the city moat, pocket parks, pedestrian pathways and street crossings were all improved, and illegal advertisement boards were banished. The city’s cultural activities and festivals regained their good traditional Lanna values and were revitalised as a result. Our Songkran festival was mainly alcohol-free and the recent Loy Krathong festival was free of dangerous fireworks
CMM
: What were your biggest disappointments in 2008?
Mayor:
My biggest disappointments were caused by political conflicts involving incomplete news and facts regarding certain situations, which caused misunderstandings amongst the Thai people.
CMM
: In what ways do you think Chiang Mai has changed for the better within this last 12 months?
Mayor:
The improvements made to the city such as the reducing of visually- polluting signboards, flood protection improved by the canal and river developments, and the environment improved by the increasing of green areas - these are all changes for the better.  I would like to express my gratitude to Chiang Mai citizens for their participation which led to the success of these priorities.
CMM
: In what ways do you think Chiang Mai has changed for the worse within this last 12 months?
Mayor:
Chiang Mai has encountered several changes because of uncontrollable factors.  The worst was the negative effect on tourist confidence caused by the political unrest, especially the closure of the major international airports.  Reservations for more than 5,000 rooms were cancelled due to the postponement of the ASEAN Summit in December.  I think the tourist industry in Chiang Mai may take a long time to recover from these events.
CMM
: Looking forward to 2009 – what are your plans and what would you like to see happen?
Mayor:
As a result of our infrastructure and landscape development plans, I hope Chiang Mai will become the most liveable city in Thailand.  Clean and clear canals and rivers, green recreational areas and cleaner air - all these are what we hope to see in the next year.  However, all of the developments mentioned might not succeed if we don’t have the strong participation of Chiang Mai citizens.  Thus, what I have seen at present and hope to see progressing in the future is the public participation of those who live in Chiang Mai city.
CMM
: Are there any ‘new’ events in 2009 for residents of Chiang Mai to look forward to?
Mayor:
In the year 2009, we would like to present the precious gifts of promotion of quality of life and improvement of cultural heritage to Chiang Mai citizens.  Chiang Mai City History Museum and Chiang Mai City Art Hall, the latest arts and cultural buildings and the pride of Chiang Mai residents, will be opened and become a part of a cultural complex next to Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center.  The new Municipal bus route will serve tourists who wish to travel the ‘cultural trail’.  Chiang Mai Municipality also has an important role as an organizer for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Kad Luang, which is one of the most important evidences of the city’s history.
CMM
: There have been reports of a severe downturn in tourist and visitor numbers in Chiang Mai – will this have an effect on your plans for 2009?  If so, do you have plans to deal with this slowdown?
Mayor:
In order to recover from the effects of the 2008 crisis, we need to enhance the positive attitudes of tourists and visitors toward the real political situation, by means of better promotion of the Chiang Mai tourism industry.  An increase in media advertising and a public relations policy regarding the city’s promotion of arts and cultural activities are our plans for 2009.  A peaceful society achieved by the enhancement of citizens’ unity is another policy which will reassure tourists that their stay in Chiang Mai will be peaceful as well as enjoyable
CMM
: Most of the readers of the Chiang Mai Mail are ‘foreigners’ – what would your specific New Year’s message be to them?
Mayor:
I wish everyone living here to have the opportunity to experience the good things of Chiang Mai, as the city has a great deal to offer.  Chiang Mai has a beautiful cultural personality of her own.  In addition, the city has been blessed with much natural and majestic beauty.  Moreover, we would very much appreciate having readers’ ‘helping hands’ in the development of Chiang Mai, thus making it a liveable city for everyone.
CMM
: Dr. Duentemduang, thank you for sparing the time to talk with us.  On behalf of the Chiang Mai Mail and its readers, may we wish you a very happy and successful New Year.