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.
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
Major drugs baron escapes following armed attack on Chinese cargo ship
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
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.
Papra and her cohorts look on as police check the confiscated guns and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai.
Mayor: I don’t think so, as last year the pollution started to build
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
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
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
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
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”.
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