NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Two men charged with sexual abuse of young girls in their care

New CM Governor faces up to pollution and political discord

EGAT blocks local anti-dam protestors at Pak Moon

Working committee chief demands CM disaster alert

3rd Army to join in forest fire fighting

Chiang Rai drought problems may be caused by shallow klongs

Drug dealer arrested on Thai/Myanmar border

PM vows to slow drug trade within 6 months

Dried longan scam uncovered by local police after tip-off

Major credit card fraudster arrested in Chiang Mai

British Chamber of Commerce holds second business networking evening

Renowned writer Rong Wongsawan passes away

Education Ministry unveils nationwide uniform grant scheme

 

Two men charged with sexual abuse of young girls in their care

Saksit Meesubkwang
Two men, one American and one Thai, were recently arrested and charged with sexual abuse against a number of young hill tribe girls between the ages of 13 and 15. It seems that the two men’s abuse of the young girls in their charge may have been continuing unreported for a number of years. The men were questioned and charged at Police Bureau Region 5’s Juvenile and Women’s Protection Division; a search of the foundation’s premises resulted in the seizure of CDs and DVDs which will be used as evidence.
Robert Moss, 55, the proprietor of Hor Fuang Fah, a foundation which supplied accommodation and access to education for hill tribe girls, with premises in Muang and Mae Taeng districts, together with his employee Chailong Siriwong, 49, are, at present, denying the charges. During questioning, Chailong insisted that he had not sexually abused the girls, and that he had loved them as would a father. He refused to comment about Moss’s involvement, stating that it was “none of his business”.
Prior to the two men’s arrest, Somboon Jai-ngarm, the principal of Mae Tang’s Sop Perng Wittaya School, had become concerned about the behaviour of a number of young girls from the foundation’s Mae Taeng premises who were being educated at the school. The students seemed ill, nervous and depressed, and were often found crying. Suspecting child sexual abuse, Somboon contacted local police, and was finally able to persuade 7 of the girls to talk with police. After the subsequent arrest of their alleged abusers, the victims felt able to tell their full stories.
The Hor Fuang Fah foundation was supposedly acting to sponsor selected students from impoverished hill tribe families living in Chiang Rai’s Mae Suay district, providing them with education and a place to stay in Chiang Mai. The accused Thai, Chailong, originally from Mae Suay, was employed by Moss to drive the girls to and from school and to perform housekeeping duties. At least 100 young girls were resident at the facility.
However, during questioning by police, the possibility that the foundation was being run for the financial benefit of its proprietor was revealed. Each student’s family was charged 3,000 baht annually for accommodation, food and transportation to school, and another 10,000 baht for education services. It is being suggested that the bulk of the charges, plus national and international donations received by the foundation, were retained by Moss.
One of the abuse victims told the school’s principal that girls staying at the dormitories often went hungry, as food was in short supply. Another said that she was afraid she would have to die before she could get away from Moss and Chailong, and that if she could escape, she would never go back. Others said that on many occasions, Moss and Chailong would force girls to go with them to their private quarters in order to ‘give a massage’.
Outsiders were not permitted to enter the foundation’s premises, even when girls were sick and needed medical attention, or when the school’s principal needed to check on their health. The children were also forced to work in Moss’s orchard.
Since the arrests, almost half the girls have left the foundation’s premises; a number have been sent to other children’s homes in Chiang Mai, others have been taken back to their villages by their parents. Some, who have been terrified by the constant threat of abuse, have refused to return to the facility.
Pol Lt Col Thawatchai Yoomark, deputy superintendent of the Juvenile and Women’s Protection Division, said that police suspect that a further number of organisations may be acting in this manner, and that their founders’ and executives’ history and profiles were being investigated by the authorities.

 

New CM Governor faces up to pollution and political discord

Saksit Meesubkwang
Chiang Mai has welcomed the new governor, Amornpan Nimanant, who began his work for the province on March 16.

New Chiang Mai Governor Amornpan Nimanant talks to the media on his first day in office.

Chiang Mai-born Amorphan was appointed as the replacement for Wibun Sa-nguanphong during the recent reshuffle involving 26 provincial governors, most of whom were transferred to inactive posts. On his first working day, he met up with his three deputy governors, Pairoj Saengpuwongm, Chumporn Saengmanee and Chuchart Keerapaeng, plus his own assistant, Surachai Jongrak, in order to allocate specific responsibilities and discuss long-term strategies.
At the meeting, Amorphan stated that he was studying the pollution problem in depth. If the present poor air quality continues to rise higher than the acceptable levels, district chiefs, kamnan, village headmen and public health volunteers will be called to a special meeting to tackle the problem.
Regarding the political conflict in Chiang Mai, the new governor said that he realized that local Chiang Mai residents are not violence-oriented, and that he believed the divergence arises from a small group who may respond to negotiation. He plans to meet and talk with the leaders of the Red Shirt groups in order to encourage them to develop the province’s potential and promote tourism, rather than focusing on political discord.


EGAT blocks local anti-dam protestors at Pak Moon

CMM reporters
March 14, The International Day of Action against Dams, saw the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) block over 500 protesting villagers in Ubon Ratchathani from entering the site of the controversial Pak Moon dam, forcing them to read their statement of protest from outside the gates.
Villagers are demanding that EGAT open the dam’s sluice gates every day of the year in order to allow fish to migrate between the Mekong and Moon rivers. A cabinet resolution ordering EGAT to pen the gates for four months each year is not considered effective, as the electricity authority delays the opening every year, forcing the villagers to protest.
Local villagers have also petitioned the Thai government to scrap the planned building of dams on the Mekong and Salween rivers, as their construction will ruin their livelihoods and seriously affect the fragile ecology of the region and its rivers.
The petition also urges the government to pay compensation to local residents affected by new dams, and to repair ecological damage caused during their construction. New land should also be allocated to farmers who lost their properties due to flooding by reservoirs.
A member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Board, Harnarong Yaowaloes, stated that, although anti-dam and environmental conservation movements had improved awareness, more dams were already in the planning stages as the negative impact on people’s lives and the environment was not yet fully understood by the government. He urged the public to closely monitor government support for the construction of the Huay Samong dam in Nakhon Ratchasima, (prospectively located in a World Heritage Site within which any construction is forbidden), and the Tha Sae dam in Chumpon province, which will seriously affect a nearby wildlife sanctuary.


Working committee chief demands CM disaster alert

CMM reporters
At a recent meeting attended by representatives of various city organisations, Wichai Kitmee, chairman of a Chiang Mai working committee on smog, smoke and wildfire issues, proposed that the city and its suburbs should be placed on disaster alert due to the continuing high levels of pollution.
Measurements of particulate matter in the air have continually been over the recommended limits for more than two weeks, with smog blanketing the city. It seems unlikely that illegal burning in agricultural areas can now be stopped.
The poor air quality has resulted in more than 13,000 residents seeking medical assistance during the period. In the previous six months, the Chiang Mai area has suffered more than 1,000 forest fires, affecting over 7,000 rai of land. Worst affected areas include Mae Cham district, where most of the wildfires occurred, Jomtong, Hod, Doi Saket and Chiang Dao.


3rd Army to join in forest fire fighting

Saksit Meesubkwang
A meeting at the premises of the Pha Muang Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gen. Tanongsak Apirakyodhin, commander of the 3rd Region Army, and attended by government office chiefs, was held recently to discuss the high levels of pollution caused by continuing forest fires.

Lt. Gen. Tanongsak Apirakyodhin addresses the media at the meeting held March 11.

In response to the immediate crisis, the military will allocate its forces stationed at Naresuan and Pha Muang, in order to assist in dealing with the problem. A special unit has been set up at the 7th Artillery’s base on Chotana Road, Mae Rim, from which 1200 soldiers will operate as fire-fighters. The unit will continue its operations until April 30.
Lt. Gen. Tanongsak stated that the target for seeing a reduction in the smog would be 7 days, with reports on air quality being submitted every 3 days.
After the meeting, Lt Gen Tanongsak was shown by air the worst-affected forest areas in Muang, Samoeng and Mae Cham, before travelling to Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai to discuss the situation in those areas with the respective governors.


Chiang Rai drought problems may be caused by shallow klongs

CMM reporters
Tinakorn Phuwapatchim, inspector general of the Office of the Prime Minister, recently visited Chiang Rai to discuss remedies for the province’s draught and pollution problems, centering on the Mae Sai and Muang districts.
Initially, it was found that klongs in sub-branches of the Kham River were too shallow to allow the support of water flows in the rainy season, causing overflows and flooding of agricultural areas, and the inability to collect water for storage and use during the dry season.
In Muang district, similar problems were found with the Pukang klong. It is estimated that once the depths of the klongs have been increased, water shortages to more than 300 homes will be alleviated, and 500 rai of agricultural land will be able to be irrigated resulting in double crops and the ability to plant during the dry season. Chiang Rai provincial authorities have requested a budget allocation for the work from the deputy prime minister’s office.
Subsequently, Tinakorn met with local residents and urged them to cooperate in saving water, and to increase the watershed areas in the forests to enable more water to be absorbed during the rainy season. He also asked for their cooperation in improving air quality by not allowing the burning of rubbish and agricultural waste.
Meanwhile, in Mae Hong Son province, the drought has affected almost 30,000 homes, resulting in an emergency drought disaster area being declared in 7 districts due to acute water shortages. Sub Moey, Pai, Khun Yam, Mae Sariang, Mae Lanoi, Muang Mae Hong Son, and Pangmapha districts are worst affected.
City officials have ordered local authorities to accelerate primary support to residents in their respective areas and the government has stated that it will provide water for distribution.


Drug dealer arrested on Thai/Myanmar border

Khajohn Boonpath
Soldiers from the 17th infantry regiment combined with Mae Hong Son border police and Drug Enforcement Agency officials to form a special task force which initiated a sting operation resulting in the seizure of 162,000 YaBa pills from Red Wa drug smugglers.

Meong and her partner Sam were arrested following a sting operation launched by a special Thai drug task force in Mae Hong Son.

An appointment was made with the smugglers to purchase the drugs, hidden on the Thai border in an almost inaccessible area of Pangmapha, where illicit border crossing are frequently made. The trap resulted in the seizure of the drugs, and the arrest of an ethnic Red Wa couple, Meong, 30, and Sam, 40.
During questioning, Meong stated that the drugs had been smuggled into Thailand via a little-used border crossing opposite Ban Piang Luang border pass on March 17, on the order of a dealer living in Wiang Haeng district.
However, a conflicting report from the Thai military stated that the Thai task force had been conducting their sting operation against 3 drug smugglers when a gunfight broke out, during which the three smugglers fled into the forest. It alleged that Meong was arrested and charged by another Thai force as she arrived to collect the money from the deal.


PM vows to slow drug trade within 6 months

Ambika Ahuja
The prime minister vowed last week to reduce drug trafficking within six months but said he would avoid abuses that have marked previous government crackdowns.
Prime Minister Abhisit announced his plan after revealing that the number of addicts in the country has been steadily increasing. Abhisit said the crackdown will be conducted lawfully and without violence.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
(AP Photo)

A “war on drugs” conducted under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra led to about 2,300 killings. Human rights activists claim many were extrajudicial executions.
“If all sides work together, I am confident that the amount of drugs being trafficked will be reduced. The government has set up a six-month timeframe to produce concrete results,” Abhisit said.
Despite the alleged abuses, the 2003 drug war under Thaksin was popular in some rural areas and slums where a tide of methamphetamine from neighboring Myanmar led to soaring addiction and crime.
Thaksin’s government claimed drug gangs carried out most of the killings to eliminate informers or rivals. Few if any people were tried or convicted in the slayings.
Abhisit, speaking last Wednesday at a meeting of high-ranking security officials about drug suppression, said official statistics showed 460,000 drug abusers in 2003, 570,000 in 2007 - the year after Thaksin was ousted by the military coup - and 605,000 in 2008.
“A crackdown (on illegal drugs) has to be done decisively, but we also have to take the law into consideration,” he said. “(We) do not want a policy that promotes a violent crackdown that will lead to other problems.”
Separately, Dr. Boonreun Triruenworarat of the Public Health Ministry said the number of teenage drug users has risen significantly in recent years, with addicts between the ages of 13 and 18 accounting for 40 percent of all abusers at the end of last year, up from about 20 percent in 2007.


Dried longan scam uncovered by local police after tip-off

CMM reporters
After a recent tip-off from local longan growers, three trucks bound for a Lamphun warehouse were seized by Chiang Mai police officers.
On inspection, the trucks were found to contain more than 30 tonnes of dried longan fruit processed as far back as 2003 and 2004. Growers were concerned that the 5 and 6-year old fruit would be mixed with longan processed this year, then exported to China, thus damaging the growers’ reputations.
On being questioned, the owners of the seized longan, Narongsak Tiyarattanachai and Winit Khandee, also the owners of warehouses in Lamphun, told police they had bid for the dried fruit at an auction held by officials of the government’s longan mortgage programme. The programme has recently been under investigation by a Senate sub-committee for alleged corruption, with specific concerns about its application in the Northern provinces during 2003/2004.


Major credit card fraudster arrested in Chiang Mai

Police have arrested a Malaysian suspected of being the leader of a gang of credit card detail hackers, who produced fake credit and ATM cards. Genuine card holders are estimated to have lost over 100 million baht due to the gang’s activities.
According to local police, Kok Mun Chiang, a 39-year-old Malaysian national, was apprehended at a hotel in Chiang Mai municipality last Wednesday as he was hacking credit and ATM card information belonging to a local businessman. Also seized was a laptop computer, ATM slips for money transfers and a notebook containing a list of credit card numbers allegedly in the suspect’s possession. Bank account books showed that Kok and his accomplices had money deposited at various locations in an amount of approximately 112 million baht.
During questioning, Kok confessed that he and his accomplices had sold hacked details to networks in Malaysia and more than 10 European countries for 20,000 baht each. The buyers would then notify him by return, instructing him to clone specific credit and ATM cards. Kok has been charged with counterfeiting electronic cards and faces a maximum term of five years imprisonment plus a fine of 100,000 baht. (TNA)


British Chamber of Commerce holds second business networking evening

Peter West, Mike Brodie, Richard Prouse, Ramlah Jafri,
 Dr. Ken Leeper, Al Trussell and Rachan Maneekarn
at the BCC’s networking evening held at Tuskers’ Bar and Grill.

Andy Archer
The second networking evening for local Thai and expat business people organised by the British Chamber of Commerce and the Expats’ Club was held last week at Tuskers’ Bar and Grill and attended by 50 representatives from the Chiang Mai business community.
The guest of honour at the meeting was Jon Glendenning, director of the British Council and honorary UK Consul to Chiang Mai. Due to the absence of Alan Hall, Al Trussell gave the welcoming speech, explaining the informal nature of the meeting. Several guests were attending for the first time, including Patrick and Kay Mulcahy from the Elite Property Group, fresh from their successful party held the previous night at Dalabaa, and Dr. Ken Leeper, whose new long-stay hotel promoting alternative health treatments has just opened.
Local business people who wish to attend future events should contact Richard Prouse on 089-557-1378, or email on [email protected]


Renowned writer Rong Wongsawan passes away

Crowds of mourners look on as the coffin of Rong Wongsawan
is loaded onto a vehicle during the funeral ceremony.

CMM reporters
Renowned Thai author, columnist and writer, Rong Wongsawan, passed away at the age of 77 on March 15 in an intensive care unit in Chiang Mai’s Theppanya Hospital, after suffering a stroke. He had been admitted to the hospital on Friday 13 with chronic kidney disease which needed regular dialysis, and suffered three heart attacks whilst in intensive care before his death two days later.
The famous writer, based in Chiang Mai for the last 20 yeas of his life, was originally a native of central Chai Nat province, and began his primary education in Ratchaburi, finishing junior high school at Amnuay Silp School in Bangkok. He also studied at Triam Udom Suksa School in Bangkok but was expelled, despite having a good academic record, after a dispute with a teacher.

A mourner holds a photo of renowned writer Rong Wongsawan who passed away on March 15.
As an adult, he worked as a helmsman, a log yard supervisor, actor and model, becoming renowned as a columnist, documentary writer, screenwriter, and author of short stories and novels.
The Writers’ Association of Thailand declared Rong an outstanding short story writer in 1985 and, a decade later, the National Culture Commission appointed him a National Artist in literature. As a wordsmith, he was without peer, and revelled in using old-fashioned words to convey modern messages. He is survived by his wife, Sumalee Trakarnthai, and their two sons.
The family and relatives of the deceased kindly ask all people who wish to pay their respects to his memory not to bring wreaths, but to provide seedlings which will be planted in memorial of the famous author’s care for environmental conservation. Donations in support of the Rong Wongsawan Fund Project, which provides treatment, including dialysis, for impoverished patients with kidney disease, may also be made.
One of Rong’s final requests was that his body should not be cremated, but buried in Toon-In Garden, Mae Rim, on the site of his much-loved home.


Education Ministry unveils nationwide uniform grant scheme

CMM Reporters
The Thai government has recently unveiled a financial aid scheme to assist parents with the purchase of compulsory school uniforms.
According to the Minister of Education, Jurin Laksanavisit, grants will be sent to schools, who must immediately inform parents that the money is available. A total of 18 billion baht has been set aside by the government to facilitate a 15-year ‘free education’ policy, within which the uniform project falls. The balance will be used to provide tuition fees, textbooks, various necessary education tools and school activities in the coming semester starting in May.
In the first semester, parents of kindergarten students will be given 400 baht for each child; primary students’ parents will receive 550 baht; Mathayom 1-3 students’ parents will receive 660 baht and Mathayom 4-6 students’ parents will get 730 baht. Parents of students at vocational college will receive 1,130 baht. In the second semester, 100, 195, 210, and 230 baht respectively will be handed to parents for replacement items of uniform.
In order to safeguard the scheme against misuse, many schools are arranging to provide uniforms for sale, although parents will be able to choose whether to use this option. If they do not, they will be required to show either a receipt for uniforms bought elsewhere, or for uniforms made to measure, or the uniforms themselves.
The Ministry of Education is also allowing students in almost 32,000 private schools to decide whether they actually need financial assistance, as it can be refused if not required, and the money diverted to improve small schools in rural areas.
According to the commission’s latest report, to date less than 1% of students have refused the grant.