Vol. VIII No. 14 - Tuesday
April 7 - April 13, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Bangkok court ruling forces resignation of Chiang Mai’s popular Mayor

Government scraps projected ban on Songkran alcohol sales

Cambodian PM downplays clashes on Thai border

American missionaries cause havoc in Changklan Road bars

Phrae villagers in revolt as controversial dam project is revived

Bookstart project aims to increase reading amongst Thai children

Fierce storms destroy property in Chiang Rai and Ayutthaya

Restoration of Doi Suthep temple’s famous pagoda nears completion

Chiang Mai celebrates HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s birthday

‘7 Dangerous Days’ project aims to tackle carnage on roads during Songkran

Chiang Rai police arrest crystal meth smugglers after tip-off

 

Bangkok court ruling forces resignation of Chiang Mai’s popular Mayor

CMM reporters
It has been announced that the Supreme Administrative Court in Bangkok has endorsed a decision handed down by the Chiang Mai Electoral Commission in 2007, resulting in the disqualification of the Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai. The reason given is that she failed to provide valid proof of residence in the city prior to her election. The court rejected a building tax receipt provided by Dr Duentemduang as evidence of her residency.
Dr. Duentemduang resigned from her position on Friday, April 3; ongoing projects for the benefit of the city and its residents initiated by her administration will now be mothballed. An election for the post of Mayor of Chiang Mai will be held within 45 days.
During the run-up to the 2007 mayoral election (triggered by the sudden resignation of the then Mayor and Thai Rak Thai member, Boonlert Buranakuporn) an attempt was made to disqualify Dr. Duentemduang from running for office as an Independent against former mayor Boonlert and a number of other candidates, based on her lack of residency and other charges. The accusations were presented to the Provincial Electoral Commission, who upheld them.
The decision resulted in Dr. Duentemduang, filing a complaint against the Provincial Electoral Commission to the Chiang Mai Administrative Court and continuing to run for office as she was entitled, prior to the result of her appeal. Judgement on her appeal was still pending after Dr. Duentemduang’s landslide election victory on June 25, 2007, during which she received 24,204 votes, against 17,570 for former mayor Boonlert, her closest rival. Total turnout for the election was estimated at approximately 60% of those eligible to vote.
Her appointment as Mayor of Chiang Mai, however, was declared as conditional on the result of her appeal against the Provincial Electoral Commission.
Subsequently, in August 22, Dr. Duentemduang was cleared at the Chiang Mai Administrative Court of all charges brought against her by the Electoral Commission. The decision allowed her to continue with the business of the city. However, the Electoral Commission made it clear that they would continue to seek her disqualification, and filed a further appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court in Bangkok, which has finally resulted in Dr. Duentemduang’s disqualification and the resultant Municipality power vacuum at this crucial time in the city’s history.
In a statement to the press, Dr. Duentemduang said that she accepted the court’s decision, and hoped that such judgements would become the norm throughout the kingdom, adding that, during her term of office, she had strictly followed the relevant rules and regulations, and had initiated many projects which had benefited the city and its residents.
“I am confident that all the work during my term has been obviously acceptable, particularly the flood protection plans, the solution of the severe pollution problems in the Mae Kha canal and the Municipality’s efforts concerning the ongoing smog and air pollution issues in the city.” she said.
She wished her team well regarding the administration of the upcoming Songkran celebrations, and confirmed that she would run for re-election in the hope that she would be able to continue her work for the city as previously planned.
Dr. Duentemduang is noted amongst the expat community in the Chiang Mai for her encouragement of integration between Thai and farang residents, referring often in public to her belief that all residents are khon Chiang Mai. With the possibility of a new administration following the election, it is difficult to determine whether these efforts will continue. Dr. Duentemduang also initiated her innovative ‘Mayor Talks’ held monthly, at which residents, both Thai and Farang, were welcome to attend in order to present ideas and address questions directly to her.
For the past two years she has worked closely with her team in emphasising that everything concerning the Municipality’s actions must be seen to be above board. She has encouraged a strong sense of the value of culture and tradition in the city, and has actively promoted cultural, artistic and performance events.

 

Government scraps projected ban on Songkran alcohol sales

CMM reporters
The government’s controversial and much-discussed projected nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol during the upcoming Songkran festival was scrapped last week due to concern about its effects on an already battered tourist industry.
The decision was announced by the National Committee for Alcohol Consumption, along with plans for a new campaign against drink-driving, after a two hour meeting with other concerned government agencies. During the meeting, concern had also been expressed that a Songkran alcohol sales ban would result in increased sales of illegal and unsafe alcoholic beverages.
Representatives from the Alcohol Watch Network were disappointed at the decision, stating that the committee could easily have approved the ban, which would have reduced road deaths and injuries over the holiday period.
Also announced was a Prime Minister’s Office regulation banning the sale of alcohol on religious festival days, including Makha Bucha, Visakha Bucha, Asalaha Bucha and Khao Pansa days.
For details of all the Songkran activites taking place in Chiang Mai, please turn to page 10.


Cambodian PM downplays clashes on Thai border

A Cambodian soldier uses binoculars to scan the Thai border area at Preah Vihear temple. Troops from both countries exchanged gunfire last Friday killing three Thai soldiers and injuring others. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Sopheng Cheang
Koh Sla, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodia’s prime minister last Saturday downplayed the border clashes that killed at least three Thai soldiers near a disputed 11th century temple as a mere “incident” between neighbors that would not break out into war with Thailand.
Military commanders from both sides said calm had been restored after last Friday’s fighting, which saw troops exchange fire with assault rifles and rocket launchers along Cambodia’s northern border near an 11th century temple.
Thailand acknowledged that three of its soldiers had been killed and 12 wounded. Cambodia said its military suffered no casualties. Cambodia earlier said as many as four were killed.
“Yesterday there was brief fighting, but the fighting was like neighbors who live close to each other and always have disputes,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said. “Today they have a dispute, then they soothe things and talk to each other.”
The border area has been a hot spot since Thailand took offense over Cambodia having the Preah Vihear temple declared a U.N. World Heritage site last year.
Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple, also claimed by Thailand, is on Cambodian territory, many Thais still rankle over the decision. Thailand also maintains claims to nearby land where the fighting took place.
Hun Sen, who just a few days earlier had issued a fierce warning that Thailand would face tough fighting if its troops crossed into disputed territory near the temple, struck a conciliatory tone Saturday.
Smiling as he spoke, he described burst of combat as an “incident,” not a war.
Hun Sen was speaking to several hundred people at a village he established for disabled army veterans and their families. The sometimes volatile leader was celebrating his 58th birthday.
He said Friday’s fighting was triggered when Thai soldiers advanced into heavily mined territory claimed by Cambodia and ignored warnings to turn back. Thai officials denied any intrusion and said Cambodian troops fired first.
He emphasized that the fighting left no Cambodian soldiers killed or wounded, with “not even a scratch.”
Thailand’s deputy regional commander, Maj. Gen. Tawatchai Samutsakorn, said three of his country’s soldiers were killed - one who died in hospital Friday night - and 12 wounded.
Cambodian armed forces commander Gen. Pol Saroeun said the situation along the border was now calm.
“There are no more confrontations, and both sides’ front-line commanders will have negotiations,” he said.
Leaders in both countries have a history of playing to nationalist sentiment in sovereignty disputes.
Cambodians are very sensitive to perceived slights by their larger, richer neighbor Thailand, which many Cambodians see as arrogant.
Domestic political power struggles in Thailand in the past few years have led to an upsurge of nationalist sentiment that few politicians are willing to buck and some use for leverage against their rivals.
The tensions erupted in brief border clashes last year, killing two Cambodian soldiers and one Thai, and both sides have stepped up deployment of soldiers at the border since then.


American missionaries cause havoc in Changklan Road bars

American missionaries call on local bar owners and staff at the Changklan Road entertainment area to repent their sins and turn to Christianity.

Saksit Meesubkwang
During the evening of March 24, a group of 4 American missionaries invaded the Changklan Road entertainment and sexual services area, shouting at bar owners, bar girls, customers and passers-by. Their somewhat unsubtly expressed message was that drinking and using the services of sex workers would result in hell as a final destination, and that the Lord had ordered them to spread this message to ensure that all sinners repent.
The group’s speeches continued for almost an hour, during which bar girls, Thai and foreign bar owners and customers intervened, yelled back and gave rude hand signals to the missionary group.
When questioned by local reporters, Tony House, the leader of the group and a former Thai boxer at the Tony Siriprapa Gym, emphasised the group’s good intentions in attempting to save those fallen into sin by making them aware of their misconduct and their descent into hell.
Tony stated that before he had found Jesus and become a missionary, he and his friends had also fallen into sinful ways, and, being lost, were heading straight for hell themselves. The group, he said, is committed to helping humanity in Chiang Mai city by encouraging conversion to the Christian religion, and will continue its visits to Changklan Road until all who work in or visit the area reform their way of life.
Tony added that Chiang Mai is a cultural city, and should not encourage the inappropriate pursuits of drinking and prostitution. Officials from the municipality should make sure that the entertainment areas are closed down, prohibiting sex tourism and promoting the historical and cultural aspects of the city instead.


Phrae villagers in revolt as controversial dam project is revived

CMM reporters
Feelings are running high in Phrae after the government’s recent announcement of the resurrection of a controversial local dam-building project, mothballed for 19 years as a result of massive and continued successful protests by villagers and the Assembly of the Poor.
The 11 billion baht project, which involves damming Thailand’s last major free-flowing river, was finally shelved in 1997, along with 4 similar dam projects elsewhere in the kingdom. A study recently carried out at Mahidol University has suggested that the building of the Kaeng Sua Ten dam on the Yom River in Phrae would solve flooding and drought problems in the area.
However, opponents of the project state that communities and over 20,000 rai of pristine teak forest would be destroyed, and note that other academic studies, carried out in Thailand and abroad, have suggested that damming the river is not the correct solution to floods and drought.
Villagers in Sa-iab, located in Phrae’s Song district, adjacent to the proposed site of the dam, together with members of the Assembly of the Poor, will mount protests in Bangkok and are demanding to meet with PM Abhisit Vejjajiva to stress the social and ecological risks associated with the project. Protest campaigns are being planned for major cities, including Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen and Phrae, and residents will prevent surveyors from visiting the proposed site.
Sa-iab’s village chief has stated that local people will not allow the dam to be built, and that they are prepared to die to protect the area’s valuable natural resources for future generations. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2011.
The Assembly of the Poor was formed in 1995, on International Human Rights Day, December 10, by villagers affected by the development of the Pak Mun dam, and became a grassroots people’s movement dedicated to fighting government projects and decisions which adversely affect the environment and people’s lives. Seven social networks are involved; the rural poor, farmers, the urban poor, workers, indigenous peoples and NGO’s.
The organisation is widely supported by community groups, academics and the general public, and collaborates on regional and international levels with networks on issues such as globalization, human rights, women, indigenous peoples, the environment and the protection of biodiversity.


Bookstart project aims to increase reading amongst Thai children

CMM reporters
In honour of the birthday last Thursday of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn - a confirmed book-lover and the author of several books - the government has announced a project, ‘Bookstart’, which will declare reading as an important item on the national agenda.
The National Statistics Office’s latest survey, involving 53,000 families countrywide, notes that amongst Thais 6 years of age and upwards, reading rates have dropped from 69% to 63%, and that the elderly tend to read only rarely. Bookstart will attempt to encourage reading and instil good reading habits amongst children.
Regarding the project’s launch, PM Abhisit stated that the launch day was auspicious due to its link with the Princess’s birthday, and that he wanted family members to encourage children to read more.


Fierce storms destroy property in Chiang Rai and Ayutthaya

CMM reporters
A freak storm battered three Chiang Rai districts a week last Thursday, causing the roof of a petrol station to collapse, injuring a villager who was sheltering underneath and crushing 5 petrol pumps and 3 motorcycles. The storm also caused widespread damage to at least 1000 homes, many of which lost their roofs in the high winds. Residents fled to safe locations, and no further injuries have been reported.
Fierce storms also hit Ayutthaya province, bringing down the restored remains of a centuries-old temple and damaging property. At Wat Se, the rebuilt main hall’s wooden support pillars were uprooted by high winds, causing the entire building to collapse, although the 5 Buddha images it contained remained undamaged.
Although no injuries were reported, 73 homes were destroyed, with local authorities providing shelter and relief supplies to those affected.


Restoration of Doi Suthep temple’s famous pagoda nears completion

The unsightly scaffolding at the famous Yod Chat grand pagoda in Wat Phra Thart Doi Suthep should be completely removed by the end of this month.

Saksit Meesubkwang
It was announced recently by a representative of the Committee of Reconstruction that essential restoration work, at the famous Yod Chat grand pagoda in Wat Phra Thart Doi Suthep, which has been ongoing for the past year, is nearing completion. The removal of scaffolding around the pagoda is underway at present, and should be completed in April, allowing visitors and tourists to view the famous stupa in all its glory.
Wanlop Namwongprom, public relations officer for the temple’s working committee, explained that the restorations had involved some 7 metres from the base to the top of the pagoda, strengthening and tightening its cement casting by the insertion of a long-lasting aluminium truss, replacing the former brick and steel frame, which had been corroded by rust and was weakening the structure by allowing water to penetrate. He noted that the removal of the scaffolding is being done very carefully to avoid damage to the body of the pagoda and the floor tiles.
Traditionally, the pagoda is believed to contain a relic of the Lord Buddha, and is one of the most respected and revered sites in Chiang Mai.


Chiang Mai celebrates HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s birthday

Andy Archer
A huge celebration was held in Chiang Mai on April 2, in honour of the birthday of the greatly loved HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Presiding over the festivities, held on the open land opposite the Amari Rincome Hotel, was Boonlert Buranapakorn, with his guest of honour, Chao Duangduen na Chiengmai.

Chiang Mai residents light candles to celebrate HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s birthday on Thursday, April 2.

After the speeches and birthday wishes, the crowd of over 1000 local residents lit candles and stood in silence for the Thai National Anthem, which was followed by a massive fireworks display and performances of traditional Thai dances. After the official guests left, the party continued for the next few hours with bands and dance troupes entertaining the crowd who remained.


‘7 Dangerous Days’ project aims to tackle carnage on roads during Songkran

CMM reporters
In an attempt to reduce the Songkran road death and injury toll which occurs every year, Chiang Mai’s Transportation Office is setting up vehicle safety inspection services at their premises and on all main roads, manned by officers and student mechanics from the 6 vocational study colleges in the city. A 20 point programme will be used, including checks on brakes and brake fluid, which will be refilled where necessary, oil, with changes where necessary, tyres and batteries.
The aim of the service, which will be available until April 10, is to ensure, before the festival begins, that as many vehicles as possible are in safe condition. Local garages are also being asked to check all cars in which they are working, or which they are renting, for the same safety standards. Drivers are urged to stay alert on the roads during the festival period, and to avoid drinking and driving.
Roadside inspections of vehicle will also be carried out in order to discourage and prevent the smuggling of drugs and contraband during the festival.


Chiang Rai police arrest crystal meth smugglers after tip-off

CMM reporters
Following a tip-off by informers, Chiang Rai police arrested two drug smugglers as they were about to board a plane to Bangkok, and confiscated 1 kilo of the amphetamine known as ‘crystal meth’.
Tharinee Oinmanee, 37, from Muang Nan, and her companion, Pichet Sangthong, 36, from Rayong, were preparing to board flight TG 133 to Bangkok, when Tharinee set off the alarm as she passed through a detector. Airport security officials, together with police already on the scene as a result of the tip-off, detained and searched Tharinee, finding two plastic bags stuffed with crystal meth strapped to her legs under her jeans. Her companion, Pichet, was also taken into custody.
During questioning, Tharinee stated that she was working in Bangkok as a child-minder, and that she had arrived in Chiang Rai by bus on the morning of March 21 along with Pichet, a new-found friend, with whom she had checked into a local hotel. The following morning, Pichet had shown her the two bags of crystal meth, and told her that she would be paid 100,000 baht if she agreed to smuggle them onto the plane fastened to her legs. Tharinee admitted that she had agreed, saying that she had needed the money to pay off debts incurred in Bangkok. Pichet, however, denied any involvement with the illegal drugs, but was charged, together with Tharinee, with possession of Class 1 narcotics with the intent to distribute.



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