Vol. VIII No. 23 - Tuesday
June 9 - June 15, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Laos sentences pregnant Briton to life for drugs

Panda family may be able to stay in Chiang Mai after negotiations

Chiang Rai rice farmers protest after crop mortgage scheme is blocked

15-day tourist extension rules toughen up

Aung San Suu Kyi trial adjourned until June 12

Possibly the most expensive mushrooms in the world

‘Chiang Mai Grand Sale’ officially opens at Three Kings Monument

Chiang Mai Charity Calendar a big success - despite the economic crisis

Bangkok introduces new street elephant law

CMU’s new volunteer teaching programme

 

Laos sentences pregnant Briton to life for drugs

Vientiane (AP) - A court in Laos found a pregnant British woman guilty of trafficking heroin and sentenced her to life in prison last Wednesday, a court official said.
The life sentence for 20-year-old Samantha Orobator came after a one-day trial in the Lao capital, according to Chanthaly Duangvilai, vice president of the Vientiane Court.
Orobator pleaded guilty, the court official said at a press briefing after the trial, adding that she named several of her alleged accomplices in her testimony. She was the only defendant in the case.
Heroin trafficking is punishable by death, but she was spared because Lao law does not allow the execution of pregnant women, said Chanthaly.
Under a pact signed last month by Laos and Britain that still needs ratification, Orobator could be extradited to serve her time in Britain. Lao officials, however, could still veto her return.
Orobator had been jailed since last August, but her plight drew public attention only last month after the British legal charity Reprieve publicized her circumstances and what they believed was the possibility she could be executed by firing squad if found guilty.
The case attracted particular interest because Orobator became pregnant while incarcerated. Lao officials have asserted that she may have artificially inseminated herself while behind bars.
“We’re relieved that the trial has taken place. We’re hoping the British government will get her home as soon as possible for the health of her and her baby,” said Katherine O’Shea, a Reprieve spokeswoman.
Orobator arrived in court wearing a blue prison outfit and smiling to reporters. She was escorted by female prison guards but was not in handcuffs or ankle chains.
Her mother also attended the trial by a three-judge panel, as did several British consular officials. Security around the courthouse was tight.
Her mother looked visibly distressed leaving court after the trial, but Orobator appeared calm.
“We are seeking access to Samantha to discuss her future options,” said Daniel Painter, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Thailand who attended the trial. Britain does not maintain an embassy in Laos.
It is up to Orobator and her state-appointed lawyer to decide within 21 days whether to appeal the sentence and whether to apply for repatriation.
Police said they found 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of heroin in 68 capsules on Orobator’s body when she was arrested at Vientiane airport on her way to Australia, though Reprieve said the drugs were found in her luggage.
After Reprieve voiced its concerns about the possibility of Orobator being executed, the Lao government confirmed that under the country’s criminal law, a pregnant woman cannot receive the death penalty.
However, officials delayed her scheduled trial date in May because of questions about how she became pregnant.
According to Lao officials, Nigerian-born Orobator initially told authorities she was pregnant by her boyfriend in England, but tests after she was arrested showed no signs of pregnancy. It was not until March 2 that a hospital test showed she was pregnant, verified by a second test April 4, police said. That meant she must have gotten pregnant while in prison, they said.
Orobator’s mother recently said her daughter had not been raped by prison officials or fellow prisoners, as some media had speculated.
The Vientiane Times last Tuesday quoted police as saying Orobator told authorities she secretly obtained sperm from a fellow prisoner to impregnate herself to avoid the death penalty. The state-run newspaper did not name the sources or give other details.
Orobator was in jail and so could not be reached to respond to the newspaper account.

 

Panda family may be able to stay in Chiang Mai after negotiations

The Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, Suwit Khunkitti,
 is interviewed by reporters after his visit to see Lin Hui and her cub.
Suwit has given assurances that the length of time before the cub needs
to be sent to China can be extended by negotiation.

Story by Siriporn Raweekoon
Photo by Supoj Thaimyos

The Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, Suwit Khunkitti, after paying his first visit to Lin Hui’s newborn panda cub at Chiang Mai Zoo, gave assurances that the length of time before the cub need to be sent to China will be able to be extended by negotiation.
The panda pair, Xuang Xuang and Lin Hui, are on loan from China for a period of 10 years; as part of the agreement it was stated that any offspring should be returned to China at the age of 2 years, to become part of that country’s breeding programme. However, the newborn panda cub is considered to be very important for Chiang Mai Zoo as a tourist attraction, and also in the development of a panda breeding programme here in Thailand. Thai officials will be sent to China to initiate negotiations which may result in a longer stay for the panda family.

Eight days after it was born at the Chiang Mai Zoo, Lin Hui’s offspring is already trying to walk. The zoo has announced a naming contest for the as yet unnamed cub (AP Photo/Chiang Mai Zoological Park, HO)
Members of the public who want to keep up with the baby panda’s development will be able to watch her every move on Microsoft Net, and local people will be able to watch live broadcasts on screens set up around Chiang Mai. The baby is expected to begin to crawl at 1 month old.
Meanwhile, Chiang Mai Zoo has announced a naming contest for the as yet unnamed panda cub, with a massive prize of 1 million baht, a car and a tour package to be awarded to the winner. Anyone can enter—preference will be given to Thai, Chinese and Kham Muang, (northern dialect), names—with entries being sent by SMS to several Thai TV programmes, as well as by mail to Thailand’s 5 zoos. The closing date for entries is June 12. The four names selected by the judges will each win 10,000 baht and a 3 night Chiang Mai tour package for 2 persons, including a visit to the panda family. The general public will then be invited to choose between the 4 names and vote by post. The final winner will receive 1 million baht, a car and tour package for two persons, while the second and third runners up will win a car and tour packages for two persons.


Chiang Rai rice farmers protest after crop mortgage scheme is blocked

More than 200 Chiang Rai rice farmers blocked a main highway once again on June 3, demanding that the government continue its rice support programme.
The protesting farmers blocked Phaholyothin highway in Phan district, a road leading to Phayao, after learning that the government plans to use a price guarantee programme instead of a pledging or mortgage scheme for major crops, erecting tents and using loudspeakers. All traffic on the highway was brought to a standstill.
The protesters demanded that provincial authorities locate silos to store their crop at prices fixed by the government, with payment to be made within three days, as approximately 250,000 tonnes of rice in Chiang Rai is now awaiting harvesting. Continued blocking of the highway was threatened, unless the government extends its rice mortgaging scheme or a better solution is found.
In Bangkok, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told journalists that the quota of the government-sponsored rice mortgage scheme is full, although rice in some provinces has only just or is yet to be harvested, adding that the rice policy committee has been assigned to determine if the quota should be increased. (TNA)


15-day tourist extension rules toughen up

CMM reporters
According to the Thai Immigration Bureau, the rules for the 15-day tourist extension have been tightened up, in order to prevent foreigners’ abuse of the previous ruling.
The new regulations were put in place without warning on June 1, and state that any foreigner who has entered Thailand on 4 consecutive occasions using the 15 day extension stamp will not now be allowed to leave and re-enter the kingdom unless this is done via an international airport, in which case a further 30 day stay will be allowed.
The new rules will not affect holders of visas issued abroad; foreigners at present using the 15-day exemption method are advised to obtain Tourist or Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visas from a Thai embassy or consulate outside the country. Holders of Tourist visas will be given a 60 day stay; those with Non-Immigrant visas will be allowed 90 days.


Aung San Suu Kyi trial adjourned until June 12

CMM reporters
Following more worldwide protests and reports that Burmese legal experts have responded to comments made by senior Junta members by stating that the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is unfair and unfree, the trial itself has been adjourned until June 12. The court, held in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, made the decision after the Rangoon divisional court accepted a request by Suu Kyi’s lawyers that witnesses for the defence who had been previously disqualified, including 2 journalists and a lawyer, should be reinstated. The matter will now be decided in a meeting of lawyers from both sides.
Previously, the Burmese deputy defence minister, Maj. Gen. Aye Myint, had stated that, ‘If offenders are not prosecuted, anarchy will prevail, and there will be breaches of the peace and of security’. Aung Thein, a well-known Burmese lawyer, responded that, ‘Accusing Suu Kyi of being an ‘offender’ even before the decision of a judge is made, shows that Burmese military leaders can influence Burmese laws and courts. Moreover, it is clearly a violation of human rights. The statement shows that the Junta has decided to put Suu Kyi in prison at all costs. To be a fair trial, this must be open and offer a chance to defend freely. Suu Kyi’s trial is grossly unfair because the sole defence witness is Kyi Win, (no relation to Suu Kyi’s lawyer Kyi Win). It shows clearly that Burmese military leaders influenced the judgment of the case. If the executive body were separated from the judicial body, it could not influence the judicial body’.
Meanwhile, the Junta has issued instructions to all Burmese civil servants that they should not criticise the Junta, nor should they enter into any demonstrations held in support of Aung San Suu Kyi. Should they do so, they will be punished or forced to resign. Education authorities have been ordered to employ more security staff in their grounds. Department heads have been told to inform students and employees that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is a puppet of Western nations and that the West will put more pressure on Burma’s civil service if she is sentenced to jail. University academics have been ordered to report to the authorities if any activists or political campaign materials are found.
A number of south-east Asian politicians are pressing ASEAN to suspend Burma’s membership if Suu Kyi is found guilty, and tough action is being demanded. A Singaporean lawyer, Charles Chong, has stated that, ‘More and more parliamentarians within ASEAN are beginning to lose their patience with Burma. As a result, we are calling upon our governments to do more than just express dismay, regret, grave concern and so on, and seriously look at suspending Burma’s membership in Asean’.
Burmese state-run media is hinting at increased tension between the Junta and Thailand following comments made at an informal meeting at the end of May which was attended by Burmese deputy defence minister, Maj. Gen. Aye Myint, who stated that, ‘Actually, it is Thailand that needs to forge national reconciliation. Thailand saw year-long demonstrations in which different groups in red, yellow and blue made an attempt to oust the government and jeopardize the ASEAN Summit’.
Aung San Suu Kyi herself, speaking with her lawyer, is reported as saying that, due to her having been charged under an annulled law, her charges are invalid, adding that, ‘We are facing a crisis of constitution, not a constitutional crisis’.


Possibly the most expensive mushrooms in the world

Forest products and the threat of fire in Northern Thailand

The pictures, with healthy forest seen above and degraded forest seen right, illustrate the devastating consequences of annual fires, used for the collection of forest products, in Thai forests. Species-rich ecosystems become degraded and the development of the forest stunted and void of life.

Alex Putman
A study commissioned by the premier online eco retailer, www.e-photoframes.co.uk, the full texts of which were recently published in this newspaper, has found that the high market price of a particular type of wild mushroom, hed thob, and its lucrative allure of potentially doubling a farmer’s yearly income, is one of the main factors underpinning the deliberate setting of forest fires. A phenomenon which, due to the emission of large amounts of smoke containing carbon dioxide, (CO2), is a killer of people and a destroyer of tourism. It is also one of the most significant causes of climate change.
A dairy crop farmer from the north of Thailand, Khun Som, states that, ‘We normally use fire in the forest because, sometimes, it’s hard to walk and find the things we want to collect. We do not hesitate to use it to burn small areas. A fire that accidentally gets out of control can sometimes happen, but such fires often extinguish themselves...’
Alex Putnam, the leader of the research project, states that, ‘The use of fire during the dry season for the collection and propagation of forest products, particularly mushrooms, is a tradition which has been practiced for many decades, and which sustains the livelihoods of local farmers in northern Thailand. However, due to annual burning, the forests are becoming degraded and devoid of all life, and local urban areas are being plunged into a haze of suffocating smog. The degradation of dry forests, (dry diterocarp), in Northern Thailand, due to the use of fire, is also limiting the capacity of the forests to naturally sequester carbon dioxide emissions, therefore exacerbating the issue of climate change’.
The aims and objectives of the study are to explore the causes and effects of deliberate burning within the province of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. In addition, the project also proposes solutions to deal with the traditional practice of burning in the province, and sets out a fire prevention plan for 2010 and beyond. The project uses both quantitative, (fire data collection), and qualitative, (semi-structured interviewing), research methods.
In total, during the two month study period, a total of 58 fires were recorded, the majority of which, (36%), occurred within forests, open areas, (19%), and along roadsides, (17.5%), whilst domestic, (15.5%), and agricultural fires, (12% ), recorded the lowest percentage.
The final report will be available online at www.e-photoframes.co.uk from the beginning of June 09. In order to take part in the online discussion, please visit the blog, www.e-photoframes.co.uk/blog. For further information, please contact Alex Putnam by email on [email protected], or call on Thai +66 (0) 86-272-8546 or UK + 44 (0) 127-865-2401.


‘Chiang Mai Grand Sale’ officially opens at Three Kings Monument

The formalities are over and the fun begins at the official opening of the Chiang Mai Grand Sale, held at the Thee Kings’ Monument on May 31.

Elena Edwards/
Lee Roy Webster

The official opening of the Chiang Mai Grand Sale city-wide tourism promotion (reported in last week’s issue), took place Sunday 31 at the Three Kings’ Monument, under lowering skies, with distant rumbles of thunder. The initiative is a cooperative effort between the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, the Chiang Mai governor’s Public Relations Office, the local Tourist Authority of Thailand, the chamber of culture and the Chiang Mai Provincial Organisation, and is aimed at encouraging visitors to the city through massive discounts on hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions.300 local organisations at all levels are taking part in the project; many of whom had set up booths to display their services and products, prominently advertising the discounts available.
A little later than expected, the show began with dancers in traditional costume, each representing a local traditional craft village and displaying examples of their products to a large audience. Leaders of the commercial and administrative community spoke briefly about the programme, including Tarntip Thongngamkham, chief of the province’s Public Relations office, Narong Kongprasert, president of Chiang Mai’s Chamber of Commerce, and the deputy governor of Chiang Mai, Chuchad Keelapaeng. Once the formalities were over, a traditional dance performance delighted the audience and occasioned a great number of photo opportunities!
Towards the end of the occasion, two huge trucks drew up, each containing tons of lychees, all of which were to be given to local communities as part of the opening ceremony. The occasion ended with an unusual alternative to the traditional firework display… rockets were sent up which, when they burst, showered the audience with thousands of tiny, sparkling scraps of confetti. Immediately afterwards, the roiling clouds opened, and the rain which had threatened to spoil the occasion fell with a vengeance!

Dancers in traditional costumes, each representing a local craft village,
display their products on stage.


Chiang Mai Charity Calendar a big success - despite the economic crisis

Ramlah Jafri
Despite the economic recession and increased production costs, the 2009 Chiang Mai Charity Calendar raised a total of 423,000 baht for rural children. The proceeds were presented to four different organisations at a recent dinner held at the Amari Rincome Hotel and attended by over 100 guests.
This small desk calendar is one of the city’s most successful projects, not only raising funds for needy kids, but also playing a significant role in promoting tourism. Its objectives are simple-to promote Chiang Mai and Lanna in an enduring, unusual and attractive fashion; to raise funds for rural children, and to involve local schoolchildren in a creative, charitable and rewarding endeavour. This is achieved by inviting students from different schools to paint pictures depicting attractive aspects of Northern Thailand. Independent judges select the best 14 which are then featured in the calendar, with promotional text and photography added. The colourful and informative 40-page end product showcases the destination year-round in an appealing, non-commercial way.
Artworks are provided free, and printing is given at cost. Ten thousand calendars come off the press, weighing around three metric tons and, (as the organisers found out to their horror), sufficient to fill an averaged-sized sitting room! Total production expenses are approximately 500,000 baht. The calendar is privately funded, has no sponsors, carries no advertising, and is sold for 100 baht to residents, tourists, travel agencies, hotels and corporate companies. It can also be custom-made with a company logo, greetings etc, on the front cover, or on both sides of an extended 1-inch base. The total revenue, less the production expenses, is donated in full towards the education of rural children. The project is non-profit, supported by volunteers, and no party receives any financial benefit.
The first 2008 calendar generated 604,000 baht; the project has thus now raised over a million baht for rural children in two years; travelled to offices and homes all over the world, and raised global awareness of Chiang Mai in many different countries.
This is a major achievement for a product which is normally given away free of charge, a credit to those who supported it, and a wonderful example of what children can achieve with paintbrushes in a concept of ‘Children helping Children’.
During the evening at the Amari Rincome Hotel, cheques totalling 423,000 baht were presented to representatives of The Children’s Shelter Home in Doi Saket, Croston House Children’s Home in Lamphun; the Khun Tha School in Lampang, and Bann Nangplaman School in Mae Rim. The third 2010 Chiang Mai Charity Calendar is going ahead, and should be ready in August, 2009, with the theme ‘Nature & Culture of Northern Thailand’. Advance enquiries and orders are welcome.
Calendar organisers Ramlah Jafri and Basil McCall can be contacted at: chiangmailcalendar @gmail.com or call on 089-851-8059. The 2010 web page is under construction at http://chiangmaicalendar2010 .googlepages.com.


Bangkok introduces new street elephant law

CMM reporters
A recent survey, which found almost 100 elephants on the streets of Thailand’s capital city, has resulted in a much needed crackdown on mahouts who bring the giant pachyderms into such unsuitable and harmful surroundings.
Effective immediately, the new guidelines will result in the arrest and recorded warning of anyone who brings an elephant into the city. After three warnings, offenders will be fined up to 50,000 baht, and will have their elephants sent back to their areas of origin. A further survey will take place at the end of next month, during which the beasts’ Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) microchips will be checked. Representatives from Chulalongkorn and Mahidol Universities will also take samples in order to check by DNA testing whether any of the elephants have been smuggled in from neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, Ayutthaya’s Wang Chang elephant camp and Pattaya’s Suan Nong Nooch have offered to buy elephants and hire their mahouts, while the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation has said it will pay 500,000 to 1 million baht for any elephant whose mahout can not afford to keep it. With the promotion of elephant welfare in mind, the BMA will host a fundraising concert featuring famous performers, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment are considering a new Elephant Act as a long-term solution to the problem of street elephants.
Here in Chiang Mai, two elephants are missing after another died from eating vegetables contaminated with pesticides. The two are believed to have fallen sick from eating the same vegetables, and have reportedly disappeared into deep forests.
Another elephant, in transit for work purposes, was severely injured when a truck used to transport her crashed down an embankment. The elephant’s front legs were broken and her head was injured in the fall. She was left by the roadside in great pain until, 12 hours later, veterinarians arrived, dispatched Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, who had been told of the accident.


CMU’s new volunteer teaching programme

No strings attached

CMM reporters
If you’re already resident in Chiang Mai, or even planning to come here and stay for a while, this might be just for you—an opportunity to share your language or other skills with the Thai community in return for the opportunity to live in such a fascinating and cultural city. And, unlike several similar programmes recently offered on local online forums by commercial language schools, you don’t have to sign up for an expensive TEFL course to be able to qualify for ‘assistance’ in placing you as a volunteer!
This new volunteer programme is being offered by Chiang Mai University’s Language Institute, and is open to qualified and non-qualified teachers alike. Both are more than welcome, and the institute’s staff promise to do their best to find suitable placements for all different skills. Volunteers will need to commit to a minimum of 4 hours per week/16 hours per month.
The programme is designed to be non-profit-making; volunteers will therefore only be asked to cover the costs of arranging the volunteer placement and the preparation of paperwork for a Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visa, which will be supported by the minimum 4 hours per week commitment. Of course, volunteers can work as many more hours as they wish, and can commit for as long as they wish, as their ‘O’ visa will be supported by the institute for that length of time. More information on this aspect of the programme is available on www.teflcmu .com/opportunities.php, although at present only the education visa is mentioned. Participation in the programme is free for local organisations.
CMU’s Language Institute has built an extensive network, allowing qualified teachers to be placed at schools where they can teach their own classes; non-qualified volunteers will be placed as assistant teachers, or given a placement where they can use diverse skills such as nursing, health care, teaching music, etc.
For more information on what seems like an excellent opportunity, please email the Volunteer Programme’s manager, Carmen Rademaker, on [email protected]



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