Vol. VIII No. 32 - Tuesday
August 11 - August 17, 2009



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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Travel and Leisure poll - Chiang Mai is 5th best city worldwide!

More drug busts in Mae Hong Son and the northern borders

Government to launch contributory pension scheme for informal workers

Thai Air plans to cut Chiang Mai Mae Hong Son route meet opposition

Weapons of mass destruction - is the Junta going nuclear?

CMU holds marketing seminar for Thai software companies

Grassroots cooperation at school’s botanical garden

Suriya Art Gallery announces next ‘Art and Ideas’ talk

 

Travel and Leisure poll - Chiang Mai is 5th best city worldwide!

CMM Reporters
The prestigious annual ‘World’s Best.’ awards presented by the tourism magazine Travel and Leisure may provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Chiang Mai’s beleaguered tourism industry – the city has, for the first time, been listed in the ‘Top 10 Cities Worldwide’ category, hitting the number 5 position. Another victory for a Chiang Mai destination came with the Four Seasons Resort’s Tented Camp scoring number 7 in the list of top-rated hotels and resorts worldwide.
Readers of the magazine are polled both online and offline during February and March of each year since the awards began in 1995, and are asked to judge according to criteria including sights, culture and arts, restaurants and food, people, shopping and value. Travel and Leisure’s editor-in-chief, Nancy Novogrod, states that, ‘for a number of top-ranked cities – Udaipur, Cape Town, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang – value ratings were sky-high’.
Bangkok’s rating slipped to number 3, whilst the top-rated destination was Udaipur in India., with Cape Town rated in second place. The full results of all categories of wards are announced in the magazine’s August issue, with the awards ceremony held in New York on July 21 .

 

More drug busts in Mae Hong Son and the northern borders

Pictured are soldiers from the special Pha Muang task force after the gun battle with drug traffickers on the Thai/Burmese northern border, which resulted in the death of two gang members and the seizure of 142,000 amphetamine pills, weapons and bombs.

Kajohn Boonpath
CMM reporters

Information from a source that a large quantity of amphetamine tablets were to be smuggled across the Thai border from Burma to Pai district resulted in a gunfight in which a smuggler was killed.
Soldiers, border police and Mae Hong Son provincial police officers were sent to a forested area near Huai Chang Tao village, where they intercepted 3 armed smugglers, who opened fie when asked to stop and be searched. An exchange of gunfire followed, during which one man was killed, with the remaining 2 men escaping into the forest.
On inspection at the scene, soldiers found a bag containing 32,000 amphetamine tablets and 2 carbines with ammunition next to the dead man’s body. According to the original source, the amount of drugs being brought into Thailand was expected to be higher; it is assumed that two more packs of amphetamines were being carried by the 2 missing smugglers.
Meanwhile, along the northern border, 2 significant drug busts were taking place. The first saw 6 dealers being arrested and a total of 90,000 amphetamine tablets being seized; the second being the arrest of another 6 drug traffickers from the Central Asian Golden Crescent network and the seizure of 4.8 kilos of heroin with a street value of up to 90 million baht.
A police source in Mae Sot, Tak district, explained that the amphetamines had been exchanged for jade and gems and delivered to Thai traffickers for nationwide distribution, in order to fund weapons for the Shan minority in Burma. The heroin was seized following the arrest at a local apartment block of 2 Nigerians and 4 Pakistanis.
This latter arrest resulted from a recent operation by the Malaysian authorities, who had discovered that Nigerians were smuggling heroin produced in Afghanistan through Pakistan into Thailand prior to worldwide distribution.
During the previous week, Pha Muang Task Force soldiers had clashed with a gang of traffickers 3 kilometres from the Thai/Burmese border in Chiang Mai province. An exchange of fire resulted in the death of two of the gang and the seizure of 142,000 amphetamine tablets, a custom-made shotgun with bullets and a hand grenade. Later that day, another unit of the task force on duty at a checkpoint stopped 3 motorcycles, resulting in a haul of 12,000 amphetamine tablets and the arrest of 3 men.


Government to launch contributory pension scheme for informal workers

Deputy Chiang Mai governor Chumpron Saengmanee, 2nd left, with officials of the Ministry of Finance and the Thai Stock Exchange, pictured jointly presiding over the opening ceremony of the Investment and Savings event held for Thai citizens at the Lotus Pang Suan Kaew Hotel.

Siriporn Raweekoon
The Thai government has announced the launch by 2010 of a social security pension ‘safety net’ for 25 million self –employed Thai workers who are at present only entitled to the monthly 500 baht old-age pension when they reach retirement age.
The Ministry of Finance will manage the fund, to which voluntary contributions of between 100 and 1000 baht a month can be made until age 60 by those not covered by existing private or public pension plans.
As a bonus, or subsidy, for each 100 baht per month paid in, the government will add an amount of 50 baht for contributors between the ages of 20 and 30; for those between 31 and 50, the add-on will be 80 baht per 100 and for those between 51 and 60 it will be 100 baht. After retirement, a pension topped at 3,260 baht per month will be paid until death, calculated on a reducing scale according to the number of contribution years and the amount paid in. The figures, based on regular monthly payments by contributors to the scheme, will be paid until the death of the claimant, and do not include the monthly 500 baht old-age pension already provided to all. In cases of varying monthly payments or contributing years, the pension amount will be calculated by ministry officials. If a contributor dies before reaching retirement age, his heirs will continue to receive the relevant monthly government subsidy.
The scheme is being put forward by the ministry in order to gauge public and organisational opinion, and will be sent to the Cabinet for approval in September with a proposed launch date early in the New Year.


Thai Air plans to cut Chiang Mai Mae Hong Son route meet opposition

CMM reporters
Following a suggestion by executives from the national carrier Thai Air that it may be necessary to cut loss-making secondary domestic routes such as Chiang Mai- Mae Hong Son, allowing Nok Air to take over, local tourism businesses are planning to petition the Thai Administrative Court should the service be withdrawn.
In 2008, approximately 92,000 visitors arrived in Mae Hong Son by air, fuelling an industry worth 2 billion baht per year to the province, according to Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce chairman Supot Klinpranit.
Local businesses want more details about Thai Air’s long-term plans for the area, which is already suffering a huge drop in revenue from tourism with other smaller airlines cancelling their routes to the area. A request by the Chamber of Commerce to the Transport Ministry for updated information was met with an unsatisfactory, ‘we are considering the matter’.


Weapons of mass destruction - is the Junta going nuclear?

Elena Edwards
Suspicions about the contents of a North Korean cargo ship apparently bound for a Burmese port before its unexplained and sudden return to its home port may have encouraged the publication of a two-year investigation into the likelihood of nuclear weapons being developed by the Junta. An unnamed South Korean intelligence expert is reported as saying satellite images suggested the Kang Nam I was carrying equipment for a nuclear programme and Scud-type missiles.
Although a source within a Thai Army intelligence unit responsible for monitoring developments in Burma has stated that there is no cause for concern, the investigative report, undertaken by Australian strategic defence studies expert Prof. Desmond Ball and journalist Phil Thornton, suggests otherwise.
In the report, two sources were quoted, one of whom, ‘Moe Jo’, now a defector from Burma, was selected by the regime in 2003 to study at Moscow’s Engineering Physics Institute’s Faculty of Experimental and Theoretical Physics. Believing he had been sent to study engineering, he was surprised to find himself working on a nuclear project. Burma’s nuclear programme aims to send more than 1,000 trainees to Russia. Moe Jo was told that after he returned from Moscow he would be assigned to a special nuclear battalion at one of the nuclear sites in Burma.
The report contains details of mining and processing facilities necessary to the manufacture of nuclear weapons, as well as for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The regime has stated that it is necessary for medical reasons to be able to produce nuclear isotopes; however, given that less that 3% of Burma’s GDP is spent on health and education combined, with medical facilities largely primitive, informed sources consider this to be highly unlikely.
Burma has 10 uranium mines, two uranium refineries and two nuclear reactor sites, one of which, a ‘secret’ military site, was built by North Koreans inside a mountain in Naung Laing and contains a 10-megawatt light-water research reactor. In September 2000, a memorandum of agreement for cooperation on nuclear matters was signed by Burma’s Lieutenant General Thein Hla and North Korea’s Major General Kim Chan Su, followed by 4 detailed contracts between the rogue state and Burma during 2001 and 2002. The agreements covered activities at 2 sites, a uranium refining and enrichment plant and the reactor site at Naung Laing. Installation, maintenance, training, supply of equipment and construction of a nuclear reactor were covered. Recently, North Korea has forged closer ties with the Burmese regime by providing arms and missile technology.
According to a Burmese source, the regime has nuclear dreams, and they are serious.
‘They’re aware they cannot compete with Thailand using conventional weapons. The regime hopes to combine the nuclear and air defence missiles, in a nuclear programme known as the ‘UF6 Project’ under General Maung Aye’. The project involves building a plutonium reprocessing plant at the underground Naung Laing reactor site; reports state that Russian experts are already training personnel in plutonium reprocessing.
A ‘nuclear battalion’, based near the reactor site, was established by the regime in 2000 to work on the weaponisation of the nuclear programme.
According to the report, with the assistance of North Korea the Burmese military regime’s nuclear weapons capability is feasible. The US government has expressed its concerns through Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who noted that North Korea has previously provided Burma with high-technology materials barred by the United Nations Security Council. David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which monitors nuclear proliferation pointed out visits to Burma by executives from the North Korean firm, Namchongang Trading Corp., which is under sanctions for its role in trading nuclear technology, saying that, ‘There’s suspicion that something is going on, and increasingly that cooperation with North Korea may have a nuclear undercurrent. We are very much looking into it ‘. Reports have also emerged of a secret visit by senior Burmese officials to North Korea late last year.
The head of the Thai Institute of Security and International Studies, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, has stated that, although the report required more verification, its proven authenticity would ‘completely change the regional security status quo and move Burma from being a pariah state to a rogue state which jeopardises the security and wellbeing of its neighbours’.


CMU holds marketing seminar for Thai software companies

Siriporn Raweekoon
A seminar was held recently at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Engineering by the Software Industry Promotion Agency, (SIPA), attended by over 200 software companies, students and business owners. The aim of the event, presided over by Minister of Information and Communications Technology Ranongrak Suwanchawee, was to stress the business opportunities resulting from the introduction of Thai-generated software to the world market.
According to SIPA’s president, Dr. Rungruang Limchoopatipa, the competitive nature of the world software market requires a high level of fundamental knowledge and marketing skills from entry-level businesses. A number of existing Thai software companies were presented as models.
To assist software companies in acquiring the necessary skills in order to compete, the seminar will be presented nationwide, funded by the ministry. Educational institutes in all provinces will be encouraged to host the event, in order to update their curriculum and encourage new entries to the field amongst their students.


Grassroots cooperation at school’s botanical garden

Maria Piotrowski
A wonderful example of grassroots cooperation - a local business and international organisations coming together to help a rural school, took place July 27th at the Wieng Saetee Vitaya Primary School in Saraphi district.
18 fruit trees were donated to the school, and were ‘raffled’ off to teams of two students, who won the right to select and plant their own tree. The trees were then labelled in English and Thai with each student’s name and the type of tree. They should begin producing fruit within the year.
The project was initiated through a contest in the Chiang Mai Friends Group to see who would plant the most trees in Chiang Mai province. A luncheon voucher for four people at the Chedi Sunday Jazz lunch was the winning prize, courtesy of the Chedi Hotel.
Wieng Saetee Vitaya Primary School is the site of a botanical garden donated in 2003 by the World Community Service Programme of Rotary International through a Japanese Rotary Club, a local Rotary Club in Chiang Mai and the Forestry Department. Also involved in maintenance and further education about the Botanical Garden are Creating Changes Thailand and the New Life Foundation.
The addition of the fruit trees to the botanical garden through the efforts of Chiang Mai Friends Group is being followed up with a project teaching the children how to compost and take care of their trees in an environmentally friendly way.


Suriya Art Gallery announces next ‘Art and Ideas’ talk

Elena Edwards
The Suriya Art Gallery’s next ‘Art and Idea’ talk will take place on August 16 at 5 pm at the gallery, and will feature two local authors recounting their experiences and reading from their work. Plus, and this is a must, Nance will be serving her very newest, bright blue – yes, blue, herbal tea!
Judyth Gregory–Smith is a veteran travel journalist with numerous publications in international periodicals, and two books on Sulawesi under her belt - Sulawesi: Ujung Pandang to Kendari, and Southeast Sulawesi – Islands of Surprises. She describes her latest book, ‘A Trishaw called Kinny: Journeys in Myanmar’ as an intimate, detailed travelogue packed with first hand information. One theme of the book is royal cities, which Judyth explores and finds fascination in their histories, the numerous royal wives, the abundant royal children and the massacre by each new king of his relatives to thwart any pretenders to the throne! Another theme is that a woman can travel alone safely and inexpensively in Myanmar. On her first expedition Judyth had many unintended adventures and felt an account would make entertaining reading.
The second speaker may be well known to many in the expat community here in Chiang Mai – Moe Tejani, author of ‘A Chameleon’s Tale - true stories of a global refugee’. Expelled from Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1972, Moe was suddenly left homeless, with little sense of his own cultural identity. Over the next three decades on the road, he worked with non-profit agencies, learned a slew of new languages, met fellow cultural nomads in forlorn and faraway places, and became involved in some of the world’s most significant historical events, searching for a place to call home. He has found ‘home’ here in Chiang Mai. Two fascinating speakers; an evening with like-minded friends, delicious tea and lots of Burmese art to enjoy.
Suriya Gallery is located just off Huey Kaew Road at No. 2, Hotel Bua Luang, Soi Bua Luang (the same soi as Holiday Garden). Look for the spray-paint Suriya Art Gallery sign before you get to the hotel gate, or park in the Nice Nails/Mr Chan and Miss Pauline’s Pizza parking lot at the mouth of the soi, and walk through the gate to No. 2. Tel 053 221 969.



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