Vol. VIII No. 13 - Tuesday
March 31 - April 6, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Happy Birthday Princess Ubolratana

Red-shirts hold mass rally in Chiang Mai

German kills Thai lover, flees to Germany and surrenders to police

Government gives 2,000 baht to low-income workers

High winds and heavy rain cause damage in city, Hang Dong, Saraphi

New Chiang Mai Governor encourages tree planting and conservation of natural resources

David Crisp killers may receive death sentence for premeditated murder

World recession may force closure of Burma’s gem mines

New ‘spraying water’ campaign to drive out pollution

Drought worsens in Phrae, emergency declared

Government’s ‘cash for school uniforms’ plan gets criticism from parents

Minister attends Chiang Rai seminar for village headmen

VIPs visit Lamphun golf resort to present Environmental Conservation award

Culture Ministry’s Songkran plan: ‘Unity, Tradition and Safety’

Thousands of ethnic Hmong to be sent back to Laos

 

Happy Birthday Princess Ubolratana

The Chiang Mai Mail humbly joins the Kingdom of Thailand in wishing Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Phannavadi a most happy birthday on April 5. Princess Ubolratana was born on April 5, 1951, in Lausanne Switzerland. She is the eldest daughter of HM the King and Queen.

 

Red-shirts hold mass rally in Chiang Mai

Red-shirted demonstrators gather at the city’s 700 Year Stadium to show their support for deposed PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Elena Edwards
Politics returned to the streets of Chiang Mai on Sunday, March 22 as a mass rally of red-shirted supporters of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra took place at the city’s 700 Year Stadium. The meet was organised by the United Front for Democracy (UDD) as part of its ‘Roving Truth Today’ political talk show series, and included a two-way satellite link with Thaksin himself, who was speaking from an unknown location. Around 10,000 supporters were in attendance, including the controversial Rak Chiang Mai 51 group, whose predisposition to violence has caused a number of former members to break away and form their own groups.
In his address to the crowd, given in the Lanna Thai dialect, Thaksin vigorously attacked the Abhisit government’s economic policies, saying that not only was it not responding correctly to Thailand’s current economic problems, but that its response was causing even greater suffering to the majority of the Thai people.
He then assured his supporters that, should he be returned to office, he would be able to solve Thailand’s current crisis.
Controversially, he then explained events which led up to his removal from office, and named persons involved whom he considered responsible, stating that he had been framed with false accusations of lèse-majesty, and that Gen. Surayud Chulanont, (Thailand’s 24th PM and head of the interim government), was the mastermind behind his attempted assassination and the overthrow of his government in the 2006 military coup. Thaksin also implicated army chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda, privy councillor Prem Tinsulanonda and constitution court judge Jaran Pakdithanakul, and promised to release more details at a later date. All the named individuals have since denied his accusations.
According to the Bangkok Post, as a result of Thaksin’s naming of names, national police chief, Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan, has instructed lawyers to determine whether the ex PM’s Sunday speech was in violation of Thai law, as it made reference to important persons in the government. Interior Minister, Chavarat Charnvirakul, also stated he had ordered provincial governors to track the movements and activities of local red-shirt groups and their supporters.


German kills Thai lover, flees to Germany and surrenders to police

CMM Reporters
Local police were alerted to the murder of a Thai woman by a request from German police concerning a German national’s admission of the crime.
On March 20, the naked body of Praew Dangkaesi, 23, was discovered by police at her home in Chiang Mai’s Muang district. The dead woman had been struck on the head with a beer bottle and suffocated with a pillow. Police had been alerted by a call from the Foreign Department requesting details after a recently arrived German national had admitted to police in his home country that he had killed a woman in Chiang Mai.
Further investigation revealed that Thomas Peschel, 45, had been the lover of Praew, and was supporting her financially by sending her 15,000 baht each month, according to the dead woman’s sister. On discovering, after Praew tried to end the relationship, that she was in contact with a Swiss man, Deutch flew to Thailand to try to reconcile their differences, but his jealousy caused many arguments. Finally, on March 16, he killed her, and subsequently left Thailand for Germany before her body could be discovered, surrendering himself to German police on his arrival and admitting that jealousy had been the motive for the murder.
Thai police are cooperating with other agencies in order to request Peschel’s extradition to Thailand to face a murder charge in the Thai courts.


Government gives 2,000 baht to low-income workers

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (right) hands over a cheque worth 2,000 baht to Gongjai Harnchai as Finance Minister Korn Jatikawanich (2nd left) and Commerce Minister Paitoon Kaewtong (2nd right) look on during a ceremony for the cash hand-scheme launched in Bangkok, Thursday, March 26.
(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

AMBIKA AHUJA
Bangkok (AP) - The government began handing out 2,000 baht cheques to millions of low-income workers last Thursday to stimulate an economy suffering from the effects of the global financial crisis.
The so-called “help-the-nation” dole-out scheme targets over 9 million people earning less than 15,000 baht a month.
“I am confident it will stimulate the economy,” Prime Minister Abhisit told reporters ahead of the launch of the 18 billion baht program.
“We are not encouraging extravagant spending. It’s a measure we hope will ease the burden on low-income people,” he said after personally handing out the first check to a teacher.
Stores and shopping complexes were quick to jump in, hoping to attract cheque recipients with special deals.
“The check is valued 20 percent higher if you cash it in at our store,” said Chamnan Metapreechakul, senior marketing director for the Mall Group, one of Thailand’s largest mall operators. “We expect people to spend it because it’s not large enough to save.”
Chamnan said the stores have created baskets of products worth 2,200 baht for those who do not want to think too much about how to spend their windfall.
At the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food chain, a cheque can be exchanged for cash coupons with 20 pieces of chicken thrown in for free.
“I am planning to see what the best deal is and spend it there. It feels good that I am spending to save the country. What an odd concept!” said Narisara Songsawang, a 36-year-old clerk.
The program is expected to increase economic growth by 0.2 percent, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavenij said.
The first lot of 5.5 million cheques issued last Thursday will be followed by 1.2 million in late March and the rest in early April.
Some said they planned to save the money for hard times.
“You watch the news and people are getting laid off daily. I think I will save it in case my husband is the next one to lose his job,” said Ponnapa Sintanee, a 38-year-old mother of three. She earns 12,000 baht a month as a school teacher.
Although the one-time measure was well-received by many, some raised concerns that it only targets about a third of the country’s labor force who are registered with the Social Security Fund. Those in the informal sector, including farmers and self-employed people, are not eligible.
Abhisit said the government plans to launch other programs for those left out of the current scheme.


High winds and heavy rain cause damage in city, Hang Dong, Saraphi

A passing motorcyclist looks on and a pedestrian takes a photo of the
iron-framed billboard blown down by high winds in Chiang Mai city centre.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A fierce summer storm hit Chiang Mai during the night of March 22, with heavy rain and strong winds damaging property in Hang Dong and Saraphi districts. Homes were damaged in 20 villages in Hang Dong, with 572 families requiring assistance as a result.
At the time of writing, Saraphi district is still being surveyed for accurate data. Urgent support is being given by the local administrative organisation, which will use its budget to repair the damage to homes.
Prachon Pratsakul, the Chiang Mai Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office’s chief, stated that, following a damage survey requested by the new governor of Chiang Mai, Amornpan Nimanan, a report would be sent to the provincial office together with a request for the governor’s approval of a 50 million baht emergency budget allowance.
In Chiang Mai city, the heavy rain and strong winds caused the collapse of a giant iron-framed billboard opposite the public library, causing damage to the building’s wall. Other billboards around the city were damaged or destroyed, and some flooding occurred. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.


New Chiang Mai Governor encourages tree planting and conservation of natural resources

CMM reporters
The recently appointed Chiang Mai Governor, Amornpun Nimanun, has announced his dedication to helping create at least 60,000 rai of ‘green’ areas by encouraging the planting of 3,000 trees by each of the 2,000 villages in the province at a rate of 100 saplings per rai of land.
During a meeting with representatives of the various provincial districts, he was made aware of the shortage of water in agricultural districts at present causing concern. As a result, he is coordinating with officials in the area’s Royal Projects in order to gain more information and advice about water management and sources. He has also requested that local authorities concentrate on preventing the illegal destruction of natural resources, trees and klongs.


David Crisp killers may receive death sentence for premeditated murder

CMM reporters
The family of murdered Chiang Mai resident David Crisp, found stabbed and beaten to death at his home earlier this year, have been advised that two men arrested and detained for the killing will almost certainly be given the death sentence. A third suspect is believed to be hiding out in Burma.
Police previously stated that David was murdered for a few personal belongings and 5,000 baht, and that the killers, who had confessed to the crime during questioning, had planned it in advance. In Thailand, premeditated murder usually results in a death sentence, carried out by lethal injection.
A memorial concert of David’s music will be held in Edinburgh, his home town, in June, organised by David’s family and the Edinburgh Open Orchestra, of which David was a founder member and musical director before he moved to Chiang Mai.


World recession may force closure of Burma’s gem mines

CMM reporters
With demand already affected by the USA’s 2007 ban on the import of rubies and jades mined in Burma, the industry itself may be forced to close down due a dramatic drop in orders for the gems since the beginning of the world economic downturn combined with plummeting prices.
Precious stones are Burma’s third largest export sector, and provide vast sums of money for the Junta, with the state-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings, (MOH), and Myanmar Economic Corporation, (MEC), dominating the sector. MEC has recently closed down all its operations.
Both rubies and jade are mined in Burma’s northern regions, with estimates of as much as 90% of world ruby production originating in the area. Some minefields are reported to have already closed down, with others laying off 90% of their workers. Precious stones mined in Burma are sold in rough form (often on the black market which thrives along the Thai/Burmese border), mainly to China and Thailand, where they are cut, polished and processed for sale, mostly to Europe. According to a gem dealer, a parcel of jade of variable quality would usually fetch around $1,400; the price has now dropped to below $140.
Around 500,000 workers are estimated to have been employed in the industry, with the largest mining area, Mineshu, employing at least 100,000, most of whom have now been laid off. If the fall in demand and prices continues into 2010, it seems possible that the entire industry will cease to exist, with disastrous effects on Burma’s already shaky economy.


New ‘spraying water’ campaign to drive out pollution

Students parade in Chiang Mai to launch the new ‘spraying water’ campaign.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A parade of 5,000 students, led by Boonlert Buranapakorn, president of the Chiang Mai administrative organization, a team of physicians from various local government offices and representatives from local military, took place on March 21, beginning at the railway station and proceeding to Thapae Gate.
The parade signified the start of a new campaign aimed at reducing airborne pollution, entitled, ‘Spraying water for clear weather and no smoke in Chiang Mai’. Volunteers were set to visit all local districts, sub-districts and villages in order to spread information about the effects of unchecked forest fires on pollution, and necessity to spray throughout the area to increase humidity and reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air.


Drought worsens in Phrae, emergency declared

CMM reporters
According to the Phrae Public Relations Office, 8 provincial districts are now regarded as emergency areas, with 74 sub-districts containing 457 villages severely affected. Damage to agricultural areas, including rice paddies, is at present estimated at more than 26 million baht.
An agricultural support grant of 33 million baht for the area is being considered, and would be used to repair dams and water pumps and facilitate the distribution of almost 5 million litres of water to affected areas.
Safe drinking water is also in short supply in the province, with at least two villages receiving a total of 84,000 litres via trucks, as the local small reservoir is shallow and drying up as a result.


Government’s ‘cash for school uniforms’ plan gets criticism from parents

CMM reporters
Following last week’s announcement of a government cash scheme to aid parents in purchasing school uniforms and supplies, many parents are suspecting that the scheme will fail due to a government requirement that unspent cash must be returned. This requirement, they feel, will encourage frivolous spending on unneeded items.
The scheme was launched as part of the 15 year ‘free education’ programme, and applies to both government and private schools, although parents can refuse the grants should they wish.
A parent, Athita Lorfuangtham, is reported to have stated that the Education Ministry should not require unspent cash to be returned, saying, “If parents manage the money, they should be able to decide whether to keep or return any unspent portion, and should be allowed to save the balance to provided necessities in the following school term.”
Another, Pisamai Kaenwong, said that spending restrictions should be eased by the ministry so that other items could be purchased. However, Waraporn Saengsuwan and Areerat Anyawan stated that they would return any unspent cash, as it was taxpayers’ money originally, and was needed to help the country.


Minister attends Chiang Rai seminar for village headmen

CMM reporters
Bunjong Wongtrairat, the government’s deputy Minister of the Interior, recently chaired a seminar held at Chiang Rai’s Mae Fa Luang University and attended by 2,000 village headmen from 19 Northern Thai provinces.
Bunjong addressed the seminar on the economic downturn, assuring that policies were being determined which would result in high-level benefits for the general public. The policies described included a National Check Support project, a Premium Provisional Care project for elderly people, the Sufficiency Economy project, and a Volunteer Members Money Reward project, which would include increasing the compensation paid to village headmen..
Bunjong also announced that an educational establishment for village headmen would be set up some time in the future, which would help develop cognitive knowledge of Thai law and the Local Administration Act, and allow opportunities for study at a higher level.
Village headmen were asked to become leaders of the Institute of Protection, and to use their positions democratically to ensure conformity in their communities and in the country. Their efforts, he stated, must come under the law, even when dealing with the ongoing problem of narcotics dealing and use.
Before the seminar began, a small group of local red-shirted demonstrators from the June 24th Democracy Group assembled, using their vehicles as a stage from which to shout their slogans, and attempting to prevent the deputy minister from entering the campus. Local police intercepted them, and the seminar continued uninterrupted.


VIPs visit Lamphun golf resort to present Environmental Conservation award

CMM reporters
The well-known Gassan Khun Tan golf resort, located on the borders of Lamphun’s Doi Khun Tan National Park, recently received a visit from a large number of international VIPs, to celebrate the presentation to its management of the International Golf and Life Foundation’s Environmental Conservation Award.
Foreign leaders and consul-generals, including the governor of Macau, the Malaysian, Hong Kong, South Korean, Omani, Laotian, Cambodian and Singaporean consuls (some accompanied by their wives), were all invited to try out the course, and to report back to their own golfing communities with the aim of stimulating golfing tourism in the North of Thailand. The visitors were welcomed by Banhan Buranaprapa, deputy governor of Lamphun and Pairot Sangphoowong, deputy governor of Chiang Mai.
The IGLF’s Environmental Award, according to the organisation’s executive president, Daniel Navid, will be awarded to selected golf courses and resorts worldwide in recognition of their efforts to preserve the local environment and local society. The Gassan Khun Tan golf resort, opened in 2004, boasts a world-class 18-hole course, with stunning, panoramic mountain views.


Culture Ministry’s Songkran plan: ‘Unity, Tradition and Safety’

CMM reporters
A press conference was held on March 23 by the Ministry of Culture to announce its 2009 Songkran plans and launch a prototype celebration entitled, ‘Songkran:- Unity, Tradition and Safety’.
The ministry has employed several agencies to promote the concept of the annual festival in its traditional form, highlighting the aspects of respect and the grace and beauty of the celebrations, and playing down the festival’s modern ‘water wars’ and heavy-drinking reputation. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will endorse and announce promotional activities for the beginning of the festival on April 13, and the Ministry of Culture is encouraging participants nationwide to wear traditional dress during the festivities.
Some 40,000 postcards to advertise the new style of the festival are being printed and will be distributed to the general public. They can also be downloaded at www. culture.go.th.


Thousands of ethnic Hmong to be sent back to Laos

Thailand aims repatriate thousands of ethnic Hmong to Laos, officials said last week, despite concerns that the asylum-seekers will face political persecution. The first group of 350 were repatriated last Thursday, said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakee.
An agreement was reached to repatriate a total of about 5,000 Hmong tribal people when Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya met with his Laotian counterpart last Tuesday during a visit to the neighboring country, Thani said.
The Hmong are currently living in Huay Nam Khao village in Phetchabun province in central Thailand. Laos has previously denied they are Laotian, describing them as Thailand’s problem.
The refugees say they will be persecuted by Laos’ communist government if they return because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States.
Many Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “secret war” against communists in Laos. Thailand has repeatedly asserted that the Hmong are not legitimate refugees and have entered Thailand illegally.
A Chicago-based Hmong advocate, Joe Davy, said some of those returned last week went against their will.
“At least five heads of households were reportedly coerced into returning,” he said in a statement. The Thai Foreign Ministry denied the allegation.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly expressed concern about the fate of the asylum seekers, noting they have been denied access to the agency to determine their reasons for fleeing.
Kasit said Thailand has offered to pay 1.5 million baht to Laos to help build shelters for those who return.
A separate group of 153 Hmong asylum seekers who have U.N.-certified refugee status will be allowed to leave for third countries willing to accept them, Kasit said. They are currently being held at an immigration detention center in Nong Khai province where they have been since the end of 2006.
In May 2005, a major refugee camp for ethnic Hmong at Wat Tham Krabok in central Thailand was closed after about 15,000 residents were relocated to the United States.



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