Vol. VIII No. 19 - Tuesday
May 12 - May 18, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai celebrates Coronation Day

Asia talks of boosting flu drug stockpiles

Chinese drugs gang arrested

Mekong River basin villagers petition UN against upstream dams

Bank books go up in smoke

Govt hikes excise tax on alcohol

Local seafood merchant murdered in front of his son

US Senate reports on abuse of Burmese refugees and asylum-seekers

D-Day 1944 - even in Chiang Mai, the few remember the many

 

Chiang Mai celebrates Coronation Day

CMM reporters
The city hosted a ceremony on Tuesday, May 5 at Chiang Mai University’s Conventional Center on Nimmanahaeminda Road to mark the 59th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s coronation day.

Chiang Mai’s deputy governor, Chuchart Keelapaeng, pays tribute to His Majesty the King at a ceremony held to celebrate the anniversary of the monarch’s coronation.

Representatives of the city’s provincial authority, along with northern dignitaries, foreign consuls, Chiang Mai MPs, public prosecutors, police, military officers, local administrators, traders, businessmen, and members of the general public were present at the event.
Chiang Mai’s deputy governor, Chuchart Keelapaeng, presided over the ceremony and lit candles and incense sticks in front of a portrait of His Majesty the King to bless the monarch. This was then followed by the singing of songs as way of a tribute to the King.
Although His Majesty ascended to the throne on June 9, 1946, he was not officially crowned king until May 5, 1950. Wan Chatramongkhol (Coronation Day) is celebrated both in Thailand and by Thais scattered around the world, and is observed as a national holiday.

 

Asia talks of boosting flu drug stockpiles

Michael Casey
Bangkok (AP) - Asia must remain vigilant over the threat of swine flu, stepping up cooperation to produce vaccines and bolstering meager anti-viral stockpiles, top regional health officials said last week.
The virus has so far largely spared Asia. Only South Korea and Hong Kong have confirmed cases. Last week China and Hong Kong released dozens of people quarantined over suspected contact with one of the region’s few swine flu carriers.
But with the memories of outbreaks of bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, that claimed hundreds of lives in recent years still fresh in their minds, delegates at last week’s meeting in Bangkok said it was no time to let down their guard.
Health ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with China, South Korea and Japan met in the Thai capital to discuss precautions such as producing and holding vaccines and anti-viral drugs, expanding the ASEAN emergency stockpile of 1 million courses of Tamiflu and Relenza, improving surveillance and holding drills to test responses to an outbreak.
“We are trying to harmonize the strategies among our members so there are no loopholes in the region,” said Dhannanjaya Sunoto, an ASEAN official helping countries prepare for an outbreak. “This is very important for us.”
Dhannanjaya said it was too early to discount the impact of the flu, saying the 1918-19 flu pandemic should serve as a cautionary tale. It also began in the spring and was initially mild, but a much more lethal strain of flu hit six months later and the virus eventually killed 50 million worldwide.
“That is reason for all of us to be on high alert and make sure a system is in place to prevent or mitigate the severity of the pandemic if it comes to the region,” he said.
Hundreds of police and troops in battle gear ringed the meeting venue - a downtown hotel - to forestall any repeat of last month’s ASEAN summit in Pattaya which was broken up by anti-government demonstrators. There were no protesters in sight last Thursday.
So far, swine flu has hit hardest in Mexico - which has reported 840 of the nearly 1,600 confirmed cases - the United States and Europe. There have been 44 deaths, 42 in Mexico and two in the U.S.
South Korea last Thursday confirmed a third case of swine flu in a 62-year-old woman but said she had already recovered and been released from a military-run hospital.
The woman had been staying in the U.S. state of Arizona and was on the same flight back to South Korea as the country’s first confirmed patient, a Catholic nun who had traveled to Mexico. The nun recovered earlier last week.
Meanwhile, China’s Health Ministry said dozens of people under quarantine across the country were released last Thursday after showing no symptoms of the illness.
China’s tough measures have drawn complaints from Mexico and other countries that their citizens were being quarantined based merely on their nationality. Mexico’s president has called the Chinese measures discriminatory.
China has defended the steps as necessary to block swine flu from entering the world’s most populous nation. A vice health minister said that the nation’s aggressive prevention measures were working and would be maintained.
There have been no confirmed cases in mainland China, but one in Hong Kong - a plane passenger from Mexico. Many of those quarantined on the mainland had been on the same April 30 flight from Mexico as the traveler in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, at least 28 of the 34 passengers who flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong with the Mexican swine flu patient were released last Thursday afternoon. TV footage showed them getting on a bus and being driven to local hotels from a holiday camp where they were held for a week. The quarantine of the six others detained elsewhere also ended.
The 274 guests and employees isolated since May 1 inside Hong Kong’s Metropark Hotel, where the Mexican man had stayed, were also released at the end of last week.
While some on the mainland were released Thursday, others began new rounds of isolation. In Shanghai, 119 Chinese who returned home from Mexico on Wednesday aboard a charter flight began a week of quarantine at a local hotel.
In Bangkok, Asian health officials said they would consider stepping up border checks of travelers and boosting stocks in the region of anti-viral medicines, which were described as only enough for the early stages of an outbreak.
“We’ve shared the concern that the existing stockpile is limited for the future situation,” said Supamit Chunsattiwat, a senior Thai health official. “An issue was raised about how the stockpile could be improved or increased. But we haven’t gone into the details yet.”


Chinese drugs gang arrested

Saksit Meesubkwang
A successful investigation has resulted in the arrest by Thai and Taiwanese police of two major Chinese players in the drugs trade.

Jeemao Sai-Joeng (white T-shirt, center) and Jeefun Sae-Joeng (not in picture) are arrested by police at their home in San Kamphaeng.

On May 6, a combined force of 100 officers from the Taiwanese drug suppression police and the Office of Narcotic Control Board, Region 5 (ONCB) raided 7 homes in Fang, Chaiprakarn, and San Kamphaeng districts. Jeemao Sai-Joeng, 37, and Jeefun Sae-Joeng, 45, known as the ‘Haw brothers’, were found asleep in their San Kamphaeng house, and were arrested. Accused of transporting a total of 145 kilos of heroin from Chiang Mai to Taiwan during three trips, hiding the drug in ‘por saa’ (the inner fibres of tree bark used for making ropes), they denied the charges to the police.
The brothers’ house, 7 rai of land, assets, and properties valued at 100 million baht were all seized.
The Haw brothers had been under investigation for some time as leaders of a trans-national drugs ring working between Thailand and Taiwan, and had been operating a cover as pig farmers and dealers in fish farms. Both were on police drug trafficking blacklists in Taiwan as well as in Thailand.
In the meantime, a further drug suppression force raided a house in the city’s Mae Taeng district, and arrested Singphol Sae-oo, 33, accusing him of working with the Haw brothers. All three suspects have been sent to Bangkok for further questioning.


Mekong River basin villagers petition UN against upstream dams

CMM reporters
Villagers living along the banks of the Mekong River in Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district have prepared and signed a petition to be delivered to the United Nations, the Thai and the Chinese governments. The petition documents major concerns about the erosion of the great river’s banks, and cites the Chinese dams further upstream as the cause.
A local village headman notes that water levels in the river are no longer predictable, as they are now dependent on the sluice gates of the giant dams.
“The river floods shortly after the dams release water downstream. Strong tides could destroy the river’s banks and our farm areas,” he commented
A Mekong conservationist, Niwat Roikaew, notes that there are also concerns regarding the blowing up of reefs along a large stretch of the Mekong by the Chinese in order to make the river more navigable by large ships. He states that this has changed the flow of the river considerably. As a result, heavy flooding in August last year, after a huge amount of water was released from the dams, caused damage to agricultural areas in Thailand alone worth more than Bt85 million. Niwat is demanding that the Chinese government take responsibility for the damage caused.
Reports state that, in both Chiang Rai and Ubon Ratchathani provinces, the operation of the upstream dams has caused widespread damage to agriculture and the local environment of the Mekong basin. Plans by the Thai government to construct yet another large dam in Ubon Ratchathani have not been well received in the locality.
Some 200 villagers, including residents of Chiang Khong district and Ubon Ratchathani’s Pho Chai district, helped build sandbag walls recently in an attempt to prevent further erosion of the river’s banks.


Bank books go up in smoke

Red shirted protestors burn their bank books outside
the Grand Waroros Hotel in Chiang Mai, Wednesday, May 6.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Kanyapak Maneechak, or DJ Orm, a core leader of the red-shirted Rak Chiang Mai 51 and more than 200 members of the group joined together on Wednesday, May 6 to hold a demonstration and burn approx 500 bankbooks from several commercial banks in front of the Grand Waroros Hotel in Chiang Mai.
Kanyapak said that her and her fellow band of protestors took the action because they suspect that some of Thailand’s most popular commercial banks have in the past provided assistance to the yellow shirted (PAD) members to help them stage major rallies. After the bank books had gone up in smoke, the group members held a stage protest and shouted anti-government slogans.
The Rak Chiang Mai 51 group has vowed to stop using all services from the banks on their ‘black list’ and also to boycott any products and merchandises supplied by the Chaoren Pokhapahn (CP) Group affiliates, especially the 7-11 convenience stores.
Meanwhile on May 12, a certificate presentation ceremony will be held by the group, again in front of the Grand Waroros Hotel, to reward those volunteers who are deemed to have helped project democracy within the region and the kingdom. Former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is expected to be present to hand out the certificates.


Govt hikes excise tax on alcohol

The Finance Ministry has increased the excise taxes on several alcoholic drinks in a bid to boost government revenues after tax collection during the first half of fiscal 2009 dropped significantly.
Effective from last Thursday, excise taxes for beer will rise to Bt60 per litre from Bt55, white liquor to Bt120 per litre from Bt110 and blended liquor to Bt300 a litre from Bt280. The increase in excise taxes will enable the ministry to earn about Bt6.3 billion ($179 million) more annually.
Excise taxes for other products, including cigarettes and possibly fuel will also be increased in the near future the ministry said.
Permanent secretary of the Finance Ministry Suparat Kawatkul said tax revenues collected by the government during the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 fell by an estimate of 9 percent. Excise tax collection fell more than 20 percent on-year during the period due to lower consumer spending. (TNA)


Local seafood merchant murdered in front of his son

CMM Reporters
An unknown number of gun men, armed with M16 assault rifles, intercepted a pickup truck at the Samoeng- Chiang Mai intersection in Hangdong District on the evening of April 30, and attacked and murdered Chatchai Chaiyarungroj, 41, a resident of Ban Chiang Mai View Doi housing estate in Tambon Nongkwai, Hang Dong district, Chiang Mai. The businessman and owner of a seafood supply firm had been out distributing produce to the many food shops and restaurants in the area.

Region 5 provincial police bureau commissioner Pol. Lt.
 Gen Somkid Boonthanom inspects the scene of the shooting.

The police said Chatchai was shot four times, including twice in the head, and added that he had died instantly at the wheel of his Isuzu pickup truck. Chatchai’s son Natchaphol, 14, who was also in the vehicle, was seriously wounded from the bullets. He was admitted to hospital where doctors pronounced his condition to be non life-threatening.
After the incident, the police collected evidence from the scene including used M16 cartridges, which were found lying on the ground near the pickup. Police initially suspect that the motivation for the shooting was from conflicts arising from Chatchai’s seafood supply business.
On May 3, Pol. Col. Arthasith Laothong, the superintendent for Hang Dong Police Station, said that investigations into this case were being vigorously pursued with the aid from several agencies and officers from Region 5 provincial police division, and also local district police stations. The police are focusing on the deceased’s background; including his financial status, his personal relationships, his business dealings and so on.
Region 5 provincial police bureau commissioner Pol. Lt. Gen Somkid Boonthanom has vowed to bring the perpetrators of this serious crime to justice as soon as possible and said that they will feel the full weight of the law.


US Senate reports on abuse of Burmese refugees and asylum-seekers

CMM reporters
A recent report released by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs focuses on claims that Burmese migrant, asylum seekers and refugees are being mistreated both in southern Thailand and in Malaysia. .
The year-long review on which the report is based was triggered by disturbing accounts of human trafficking received in 2007. The report, entitled ‘Trafficking and Extortion of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand’, notes the route by which Burmese migrants escape from extensive human rights abuses in their home country, fleeing across the border to Malaysia in order to register for resettlement to a third country with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
It would seem that, whether migrants have identification papers and are registered with the UNHCR or not, they are often arrested by the Malaysian police and deported to southern Thailand. The report states that, at the Malaysia/ Thailand border, they are handed over to human traffickers who demand money, the payment of which has reportedly been linked to specific instructions including details of Kuala Lumpur –based bank accounts. Migrants’ reports suggest that those who are unable to pay are handed over to commercial interests in Thailand, including fishing boats and brothels.
This ‘trading’ of refugees has long been charged by human rights activists. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, states that, “People seeking refuge from oppression in Burma are being abused by Malaysian government officials and human traffickers.”
The Senate Committee has also received reports of sexual assaults on women refugees by human traffickers. An NGO official states that, “Most young women deported to the Thai border are sexually abused, even in front of their husbands, by the syndicates, since no one dares to intervene as they would be shot or stabbed to death in the jungle.” Women are generally sold into the sex industry.
The report, the first of three, states that Malaysia does not officially recognize refugees, due in part to concern by the government that official recognition of refugees would encourage more people to enter Malaysia, primarily for economic reasons. Also, Malaysian officials view migrants as a threat to Malaysia’s national security; however, foreign labor is an integral building block of Malaysia’s economy.


D-Day 1944 - even in Chiang Mai, the few remember the many

Elena Edwards
Those of us from the UK will be well aware of the Royal British Legion, the charity which provides fellowship, support and practical help to both serving members of the armed forces and ex-servicemen and women, and which is also open to all those who share the aims and objectives of this worthy organisation. Of course, local branches exist all over the UK, with a number of overseas branches providing services for expats. In Thailand, the Pattaya branch is well-established, and contributed to the founding of the Chiang Mai branch with advice and encouragement.
The Chiang Mai Royal British Legion meets monthly at that well-known British pub, the Olde Bell on Loi Khro Road, with ‘mine host’ Pedr providing a first-class buffet supper including grilled steak, delicious kebabs, salads etc, in a comfortable setting.
Last Wednesday night, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend, and although I’m very definitely not military in any way, my welcome by those who were was warm and genuine.
During the evening, I was introduced to Dr. Robert Duncan, a founding member of the Chiang Mai branch, and a veteran of the D-Day Normandy landings in 1944. Dr. Bob, as he is affectionately known, is 85 years old, and was commissioned in 1944 at the age of 19 after attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
He vividly recalls the night before he sailed to France as a Platoon Commander in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, sleeping overnight in one of a huge number of tents erected on Wanstead Flats and arriving at the railway station the next morning, where he was confronted with a group of fashionably dressed Londoners waiting to board a train to Royal Ascot for the races, complete with morning suits, top hats, and elaborate ladies’ headgear! To the 19 year old officer, the contrast between that scene and the scene on the Normandy beaches a short time later, with members of his platoon wounded and dying amidst the din and chaos of battle, must have been almost impossible to bear.
After his demob, Dr Bob’s life took a turn for the very different …having been offered a chance to study at Queens’ University in Belfast, he decided to qualify as a dentist. Not for him, however, a quiet and remunerative National Health Service practice in the UK after graduation …Dr.Bob’s first job was at the Antarctic whaling community’s base in South Georgia, at the foot of the world!
From that distant and chilly post, he moved on to Guyana, then to Hong Kong, and finally to the Seychelles, where he still has a surgery which he attends regularly when not in Chiang Mai.
Here, he relaxes and plays golf; on June 1 last year he joined the Gymkhana Club - on June 2 he became one of its few members to score a hole in one! As he plays golf three times a week, as well as serving in the Seniors’ team at the annual Cricket 6’s tournament, there’s no doubt that this remarkable man will do it again!
Dr Bob’s next trip though will be one of memories, sadness and joy - he will join with other veterans of the Normandy landings in 1944 to revisit the D-Day sites in remembrance of those who never came home. The visit will be funded by the UK National Lottery …an ungrateful government having seen fit not to contribute, putting the trip under threat until the Lottery came up with the funds.
Saturday June 6 is the 65th anniversary of D-Day, one of the crucial battles fought by the Allies which reversed the fortunes of the German Army and led to the fall of Hitler and the Third Reich.
The Chiang Mai branch of the Royal British Legion needs just a few more members before it can be officially registered in London. Please remember that anyone who shares its aims can become a member - you don’t have to have a military background. If you’d like to spend some enjoyable time with these good people, a visit to the Olde Bell British Pub and a chat with Pedr will provide you with full details. See you there next month!



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