NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Government minister blames local budget constraints for northern smog

Major drugs baron escapes following armed attack on Chinese cargo ship

New police commissioner gets results

Economic crisis threatens workers’ dormitory owners in Lamphun

Auditor-general inspects CM Zoo’s management and administrative systems

Local ‘helping hand’ radio station to close due to economic downturn

Historic cross-Mekong rail service opens for business

EGAT won’t appeal, will compensate pollution victims

Chiang Mai’s Mayor speaks on pollution

Chiang Mai Friends Group’s concerns on air quality

Suriya Gallery to host illustrated talk on Thai and Burmese temple murals

 

Government minister blames local budget constraints for northern smog

Environment minister Suwit Khunakitti took a helicopter trip over the city last week to see for himself the extent of the pollution problem.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Suwit Khunakitti and his group were welcomed by Chiang Mai governor Wibun Sa-nguanpong on their arrival at Aviation Aerospace Division 41 on March 2, where a helicopter trip to inspect burned areas in the northern region had been arranged. Later, at City Hall, a meeting was held with officials responsible for protection against pollution and toxic fumes.
At the meeting, Suwit stated that pollution from forest fires and illegal burning had spread throughout Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Lamphun, and Mae Hong Son. He acknowledged the problem, but added that budget constraints were impeding progress towards a solution. Some 60% of towns and 40% of forests in the region are now affected by the toxic haze, with protection against wildfires still insufficient.
An additional 2,000 officers are needed to adequately monitor the area during the hot season.
Suwit stated that local residents must cease burning immediately, and stressed the impact on both residents’ health and tourist revenues of the present critical levels of particles in the atmosphere.
In Chiang Mai city, the measurement station at Yuparat Wittayalai School has registered readings of 195.3 micrograms/m3, with a 24-hour average of 133, as against a safe level of 120 or below. Another station in the city has registered 191.4 micrograms /m3, and a 24-hour average of 131. Water sprays across the city are being regularly used. At present, in Lampang, stations are showing 170.9 micrograms/m3, Lamphun is registering 127.9 micrograms/m3 and Mae Hong Son is showing 125.5.
Persons who wish to report burning or forest fires should call 053-275265 or 053-408997 during office hours or dial the 24 hour reporting service on 1310.

 

Major drugs baron escapes following armed attack on Chinese cargo ship

CMM reporters
A Shan News Agency report details an armed attack on a Chinese cargo freighter on the Mekong River on February 18, during which 1 crew member was killed, 3 were injured and damage to the freighter was caused. It is believed that an armed group loyal to a major Golden Triangle drugs baron, Naw Kham, was responsible for the attack.
Subsequently, after Chinese authorities urged action against Naw Kham and his followers, Laotian and Burmese troops mounted a massive manhunt resulting in the arrest of 54 men and the seizure by Burmese troops of more than 350 kilogrammes of heroin and 217 million baht in cash, although a Thai security source states that only 28 million baht in cash was seized. The drugs baron is still at large, with local businessmen reporting that, “He would not have escaped if it were not for local Burmese Army commanders, who were receiving kickbacks from the criminals.”
Naw Kham, 48, is reported to be the mastermind behind a massive protection racket centred on taxing ships passing down the Mekong River and illegal drug traffickers along the border. A rate of 5,000 baht per kilogramme of heroin and 3 baht per YaBa pill is being extorted. In 2006, Naw Kham’s Tachilek house was searched, resulting in the seizure of several million YaBa pills, and Naw Kham’s escape, first to Thailand, then to Laos, where he is reported to be at present. Laotian authorities, however, have stated that they believe he is still in Shan State.
In 2008, the United Wa State Army, who had been forced to pay protection money, sent troops to deal with Naw Kham, but were allegedly prevented from taking action by the Burmese army. According to a member of the local militia, “Naw Kham has made many enemies during the past year.”
Colonel Yawdserk, chief of the Shan State Army (SSA), when questioned by Thai security authorities, stated that Naw Kham will not be welcome at any of his bases. The drugs baron had previously claimed that his racketeering activities in the Golden Triangle were supported by the SSA, who had replied that the local junta commanders were receiving kickbacks from him. Col. Yawdserk added that, “Without the heavy pressure from China, Naw Kham would still be making a great deal of trouble for business people in the area.”


New police commissioner gets results

Saksit Meesubkwang
The recent appointment of Chiang Mai’s new police commissioner, Pol. Major-General Sommai Kongwisaisuk, has resulted in an increased number of arrests in Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas.

Sansanee Papra and her cohorts look on as police check the confiscated guns and narcotics.

The arrest of drug dealer, Sansanee Papra, 20, and the seizure of YaBa pills, cash and a motorcycle, led to the further arrests of 4 members of her gang and the seizure of property including guns and bullets. The accused, including Sansanee’s live-in boyfriend, were selling YaBa to teenagers in Muang district.
The same police team arrested Supas Tatia, Chaiwat Narmpuan, and Thawil Kitsetanee, confiscating a total of 2760 illegal and dangerous firecrackers, plus an amount of firecracker materials. Annop Chaiwong, 61, was arrested for possession of firearms; 4 guns and a number of bullets were confiscated.


Economic crisis threatens workers’ dormitory owners in Lamphun

CMM reporters
Owners of factory workers’ dormitories surrounding the Lamphun Industrial Estate are facing vastly reduced revenues due to 3,500 employees being laid off and 4,000 workers’ contracts not being renewed in 2008, resulting in difficulties in making regular payments due to financial institutions.
Chief of the Lamphun Provincial Economic Group, Dr. Watchara Sonthichai, stated that Lamphun is being seriously affected by fallout from the worldwide economic crisis. Estimates project a total of 20,000 redundancies by the end of the 2nd quarter in June.
More than 1,000 of the workers’ dormitories which surround the industrial estate, containing approximately 10,000 rooms, have been affected by the downturn, losing on average between 20 and 50% occupancy. Owners have a combined debt with financial institutions of approximately 500 million baht, and are now having problems meeting regular repayments.
The Lamphun Economic Group, consisting of the Lamphun Industrial Council, the Lamphun Chamber of Commerce, the Lamphun Bank Club, and the Ban Klang sub-district municipality, will submit a strategy to provincial authorities. The 4-point plan suggests that debt payments should be restructured and conditions renegotiated; that local property taxes should be either renegotiated or paid in installments; that taxes on businesses should be reduced and that a reduction in public utility fees should be supported.


Auditor-general inspects CM Zoo’s management and administrative systems

Saksit Meesubkwang
Following the recent problems at Chiang Mai Zoo, the facility received a visit on February 28 from the Auditor-General, Khunying Jaruwan Maintake and his officials, the object of which was to examine and study the zoo’s management systems. Various areas of the zoo, including the panda enclosure and the aquarium, were also closely examined.
The director of the Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand, Dr. Sophon Damnui, and the zoo’s director, Thanapat Pongpamorn, were on hand to welcome the group and extend their cooperation by explaining the zoo’s management and administrative systems.
Whilst at the zoo, Khunying Jarawat informed local press that the controversy surrounding the supply of sub-standard milk to schools in the area had been the subject of investigation by his office since 2003. A report had recently been submitted to the government, suggesting that government authorities should purchase milk directly from farmers rather than through supplier companies. The report also stated that local agricultural offices should promote hygiene to farmers in order to ensure the quality of the milk. His investigation had revealed that supplier companies had been mixing skimmed milk with water, and that the practice was continuing. Khunying Jarawat concluded that the supply of school milk should be administered by local government in order to save transportation costs.


Local ‘helping hand’ radio station to close due to economic downturn

Saksit Meesubkwang
Chiang Mai’s local ‘helping hand’ radio station, INN, on air for 8 years, is being forced to close down, due, apparently, to the deteriorating economic situation.
Prof. Arkom Tantrakul, president of the Chiang Mai/Lamphun Radio and Television Journalists’ Association, expressed his regret at INN’s untimely closure, adding that, “The program had been widely recognised and accepted by local people and had become a part of their lives for the past 8 years. INN has been influential in its contributing a great deal of information to local society, particularly when disasters have occurred. It has also promoted understanding and harmony amongst its listeners.”
Dr. Thanes Charoenmuang, a CMU academic and deputy president of the City Development Institute agreed, stating that it was not easy to find a strong-willed media outlet which can connect with listeners’ hearts in the manner which INN had achieved. However, he expressed doubt about the motivation for the closure, saying that the station’s executives should explain their reasons more clearly.
Dr. Tahnes continued, saying that, “As well as Chiang Mai’s INN, ‘helping hands’ programmes in other provinces are about to inexplicably close down. This means that the public will be prevented from accessing their basic right to hear and obtain information, a right which will now be prohibited.”
A local journalist, Boonrit Tulapanpong, however, believes that economic factors are responsible for the closures, although he would encourage INN’s production team to do all they can to continue their broadcasts.
DTAC is sponsoring 10 INN stations in central Thailand’s rural areas, which will be concentrating on agricultural broadcasts. The remainder of the network nationwide will cease broadcasting on March 31, with the loss of 50 jobs.


Historic cross-Mekong rail service opens for business

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn last Thursday presided over the inaugural ceremony for a passenger rail service linking the northeastern Thai province of Nong Khai and the Lao PDR border town of Thanaleng on the Mekong River near Vientiane, the capital.
Her Royal Highness departed from the nearby Udon Thani station on the State Railway of Thailand (SRT)’s train at 9 a.m., taking an hour-long rail journey to Nong Khai for the maiden trip of the 3.5-kilometre rail link service between the two nations.
In Nong Khai, the princess officially opened a State Railway of Thailand library before making the historic trip across the Mekong River to Vientiane’s Thanaleng station where she co-chaired the official opening of the cross-border rail service with Lao PDR Vice-President Bounnhang Vorachith.
The fare for an air-conditioned second class journey on the route is Bt80 per trip, while for ordinary third class it is Bt20. It is projected that with four return trips daily, revenue from fares will exceed Bt10 million during the first year of service.
Construction of the six kilometre railway from the Friendship Bridge to Thanaleng Station was completed last year by the Lao National Railway Authority and the State Railway of Thailand to develop transport services between the two neighbours.
At the initial stage the service will offer two daily round trips, and the engine and carriages will park overnight at Thailand’s Nong Khai station.
Trains depart Nong Khai station at 9.10 a.m. and 16:20 p.m. for the 15 minute journey. Trains traveling in the opposite direction leave the Thanaleng station in Laos at 10.05 a.m. and 17:20 p.m.
Lao Railway Authority Deputy Director General Sonesack N. Nhansan told the official KPL News last Friday that while the current equipment being used is operated by Thailand, the Lao PDR is talking with prospective suppliers and donors regarding both the rolling stock and extension of rail lines to other parts of the country. (TNA)


EGAT won’t appeal, will compensate pollution victims

Villagers affected by emissions from the EGAT lignite mine in Lampang sit outside the Chiang Mai Administrative Court to await the verdict of their claim for compensation.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has opted to not appeal a court ruling which has ordered it to compensate Lampang residents who have been affected by toxic emissions from its Lampang lignite mine and coal-fired power plant, EGAT Deputy Governor Virach Karnjanapiboon said last Thursday.
Virach said EGAT would seek counsel from prosecutors again in order to get a clear picture of the court ruling regarding its mining concession before proceeding on what action it should adopt.
The Administrative Court in Chiang Mai last Wednesday ruled that EGAT must pay compensation to 477 villagers in nearby Lampang province after the victims lodged complaints that they had suffered respiratory problems from toxic emissions from the plant between 1992-1998.
EGAT has not released sulphur dioxide from its plant at any amounts exceeding that allowed by the law from 1998 until the present time, Virach said. The state-owned corporation has operated de-sulphurisation units since 1997 and EGAT is confident that air quality around the plant has now improved, he said. (TNA)


Chiang Mai’s Mayor speaks on pollution

Andy Archer.
CMM: Dr. Duentemduang, thank you for agreeing to this interview on pollution in the city - at present a major concern for all residents.  Do official records show that, this year, the problems have begun earlier than in previous years?

Chiang Mai Mayor
Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai.

Mayor:
I don’t think so, as last year the pollution started to build from January.
CMM: Persons who have lived here for 30 years may believe that the haze over the city has nothing to do with air-borne pollution.  Would you agree with this?
Mayor:
Yes, and no, as, in the past, the haze visible during the dry and hot seasons was not harmful.  Nowadays, burning of agricultural waste and rubbish and forest wildfires, together with factory output and exhaust emissions combine to make a haze which is harmful to health as pollutants within it exceed safe levels.
CMM: Does the Chiang Mai administration expect pollution to be worse this year than in previous years?
Mayor:
Many authorised organisations will, in the near future, instigate preventative measures and efforts to promote the ‘cause and effect’ of unregulated burning of rubbish and forest areas.  The municipality already provides a collection and disposal service for leaves and tree branches.  There has been a noticeable decrease in the amount of  burning within the city borders this year, but we need a great deal more cooperation from all rural and city authorities.
CMM: Are there regulations about emissions from songthaews, tuk-tuks, diesel-engined buses, large vehicles, etc?
Mayor:
Regulations do exist regarding the levels of exhaust emissions, particularly for diesel engines, which are required to comply with a level of 45% or lower.
CMM: Does the city’s administration collaborate with other authorities, both in Thailand and internationally?
Mayor:
We work with many organisations both in and outside the kingdom, including the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Department of Pollution Control, the Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, the Forestry Department and certain German organisations.  All help to give us knowledge about how best to proceed.  We have never ignored this issue.
CMM: You have said that burnings which occur on forest land are a major cause of pollution.  Does the city’s administration have any control over this?
Mayor:
Municipal law and its announcements do include setting fires in forested areas.  We also advise in rural areas as regards the correct manner in which to dispose of leaves and branches, as many older residents in agricultural districts have been used to the practice of burning for most of their lives. 
CMM: Previously, you have mentioned that approximately 40% of Chiang Mai’s GDP comes either directly or indirectly from tourism or the expat community.  This issue is clearly having an immediate affect on tourism, what do you suggest can be done to remedy this?
Mayor:
The municipality will continue to plan to prevent the problems caused by pollution, in whichever sector they occur.  We have announced that pollution is severely affecting the number of tourists coming to the city; we do not wish tourists to believe that Chiang Mai is an unhealthy place to visit.  We will continue to request cooperation from all residents in preventing burning, maintaining their vehicles correctly, and watering down trees and areas of ground to prevent dust.  We are cooperating with outside organisations as regards the burning of forest areas, as the effect on wildlife and the natural environment is devastating.  Recently, in Mae Aie, Chiang Dao, Phrao, Mae Tang and Doi Saket districts, as many as 18 ‘hot spots’ were found.
CMM: Dr. Duentemduang, thank you for finding time from your busy schedule to speak with the Chiang Mai Mail.


Chiang Mai Friends Group’s concerns on air quality

Elena Edwards
The Chiang Mai Friends Group gathered at La Gondola on February 25 for their regular monthly meeting, welcoming as guest of honour the city’s Mayor Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Friends’ evenings is the ‘meet, greet and eat’ sessions before the meeting itself begins…a chance to sit and share a good meal and good conversation with good friends, old and new.
On this occasion, 9 new members were welcomed by the group’s president and founder, Duenpen Chaladlam (Boong to her very many friends) and the assembled company. The February presentation which followed was very special – the video show of the group’s first anniversary party, held January 22 at JJ Markets, and hugely enjoyed who all who attended.
A second video presentation was given by Shane Beary, MD of Pang Soon Lodge’s ‘Track of the Tiger,’ in which environmental issues and eco-tourism were stressed. Very relevant at present, with the pollution in and around the city and the wildfires in the forests getting worse daily! Boong gave the members an advance preview of the new Chiang Mai Friends membership cards, and detailed the group’s sponsors, plus the discounts they were prepared to offer to members.
A very interesting talk was given by Tom Westheimer on the usefulness of Bio Sand Filter technology to families and children in rural areas without access to clean, bacteria-free water. He stressed the low cost of the filter, which ranges, dependent on labour and transportation over distance, between $12-$30. Following Tom’s talk, Boong reported that she has been invited to a special dinner to take place on March 22, together with the Mayor, the Chiang Mai governor and the honorary consuls, all of whom are aware that, at present, Chiang Mai needs to foster a strong sense of community in order to make the city a better place in which to live. At the dinner, knowledge of issues concerning both Chiang Mai and Thailand itself with be shared and discussed.
At the next meeting on March 30, the new Chiang Mai Friends website will be shown to all members and guests. In the meantime, should any member wish to add information, please contact Boong through www.retireinchiangmai.com.
During the open forum, a suggestion that the group should hold activities to promote the environment, education and the charity community was discussed. Scheduling such activities will be investigated. The present pollution issues were a strong topic, with the suggestion that CMF volunteers should visit areas both in the city and on its outskirts where burning is known to occur, with the aim of spreading knowledge about its harmful effect and its alternatives.


Suriya Gallery to host illustrated talk on Thai and Burmese temple murals

Elena Edwards
Suriya Gallery’s latest ‘Art and Ideas’ presentation will be held at the gallery on Huey Kaew Road on March 15, and will feature an illustrated talk by Dr. Alexandra Green entitled “Narratives in Burmese and Thai Wall Paintings”.

Dr Alexandra is research assistant professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Hong Kong, where she is working on a book on Burmese murals and a project comparing Thai and Burmese wall paintings. Prior to her current appointment, she was director and curator of Asian Art at the Denison Museum at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Her Ph.D. is from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK.
The talk will explore the Buddhist subject matter of Thai and Burmese wall paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, which are largely composed of illustrations of the Jataka stories, the life of Gautama Buddha, the spiritual planes of the universe which address the concept of rebirth, celestial beings, mythical creatures, and the Himavanta Forest. Delving into the layout of the wall paintings, the significance of the images is revealed. The imagery is more complex than immediately apparent, with strong links to popular beliefs emerging, even in the context of sacred stories.
The event will begin at 6 p.m. - 10% of any art sales and 20% of other sales will be donated to a local organisation, Cultural Canvas, which aims to provide art experiences for the children of migrants in Chiang Mai. Guests may also choose to donate to a fund to provide medical care to people crossing the border for that reason. For more information, please visit homepage.mac. com/inkish/Pansodan/AnipoAppeal.ppt.htm.
Suriya Art Gallery is located off Huay Kaew Road, in Soi Bua Luang (the same soi as Holiday Garden Hotel). Look for the spray-paint Suriya Art Gallery sign before you get to the hotel gate, or park in the Nice Nails/Mr Chan and Miss Pauline’s Pizza parking lot and walk through the gate to No.2.
For more info, please email [email protected], or call on 053 221 969.