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Reforestation far behind

Posted by hasekamp on 30 April 2001 at 14:12 PM
The reforestation project by the Thai Forestry Department is seven years behind, a spokesman said. The Forestry Department still has 30 million Baht left over that had to be put in the reforestation project. Five billion Baht has been spent on the project up to now. The project started in 1994. Under the project, that was to last for 12 years, landowners can take part and get 3,000 Baht per rai to grow (new) trees on their land. Only 30% of the target set had been reforested by 1999.
"A revamp of the project is needed if the plan is to go ahead. After seven years, many people have given up. They do not see the point in going on", the spokesman from the Forestry Department said.
He gave an example why the project does not work: "People planting teak need a permit for making use of this protected wood but this is often discouraged by the bureaucratic process involved", he said.
Teak plantations have to be thinned out by half after five years and again after another year, or the plants do not grow well. You can sell the young wood to saw mills, but at a cheap price only. You get a better price if you sell to furniture plants. Teak under seven years old is too soft and can be processed best by rubber wood furniture factories. So it is not attractive to sell it at that point. And so it seems that illegal logging without replanting is easier, because it makes more money and needs less permits...
This being a fact, we believe that the utmost speed in rewriting the program is necessary!


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Cooperation in environmental protection

Posted by hasekamp on 30 April 2001 at 14:11 PM
Thailand and six of its neighboring countries (Cambodia, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam) will draft a marine and coastal environment management plan together, as a new strategy to protect the (in many places) deteriorated environment in the region. The project is supported by Global Environment Facilities Fund (GEF). The fund will supply 750 million Baht to the countries concerned.
The seven countries will draft a management plan for marine and coastal environment protection and coordinate with each other to find the solution to remedy the deteriorated environment in the region. The project will last from 2001 to 2006.
There will be six main sub-areas: coral, mangrove forest, seaweed, swamp, fishery, and pollution from land.
All the participating countries will to come up with an action plan in every sub-area.
Being environmentalists, we welcome this plan with enthusiasm, but we want to see some results first, before we really become enthusiastic!


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Mass burning of seized drugs

Posted by hasekamp on 30 April 2001 at 14:10 PM
The Ministry of Public Health will burn over 2,000 kilograms of seized drugs today. The burning will take place in public, and the ceremony will be presided by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at the Bang Pa-in industrial estate near the old capital of Ayutthaya. There will be a live broadcast on Thai TV9 Channel. This too is one of the elements of the anti-drugs policy of the new government.
The drugs to be burnt include over 1,087 kilograms of heroin, 962 kilograms, or 11 million pills, of methamphetamins, 13 kilograms of opium seeds, 8.6 kilograms of marihuana.
This is the 25th mass drugs destruction in Thailand, and it is the largest in ten years.
The burning will take place in environmentally-friendly electric ovens. If you missed it, the next mass narcotics destruction ceremony will be held on 26 June, which is World Anti-Narcotics Day. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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US special forces to train border forces

Posted by hasekamp on 29 April 2001 at 21:00 PM
US special forces will be giving intensive training to Task Force 399, a new Third Army unit, formed to fight drugs trafficking along the Thai-Burmese border.
There have been several unofficial reports about this, but this seems the first official announcement.
It appears that 30 members of the US special forces from Fort Lewis in Washington will be doing a training operation for the Thai military, under the code name "Baker Torch". The training will take place at two military bases, in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. The operation is an initiative of army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont.
It is hoped that the training will help to stop the continuing flow of drugs from Burma to Thailand. The main task of the newly trained Thai task force will be to deal with drug traffickers along the border with Burma.
An army source said Gen. Surayud had already asked for US help to train the taskforce while on an official trip to the US in April 1999. US ambassador Richard Hecklinger went to Chiang Mai in the middle of last year, to observe the situation in the far North of Thailand. In September last year Dennis Blair, chief of the US Pacific Command, made another surprise trip to witness the Third Army's drug suppression along the border area. We reported about that trip.
We hope that this training will result in a Thai armed force, ready to fight the war against drugs more effectively than up to now. As we had to report, only 10% of the drugs, smuggled into Thailand are being caught by the Thais.


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Red Wa also going into heroin

Posted by hasekamp on 28 April 2001 at 13:36 PM
As follows already from our latest two messages about drugs catches, the (Burmese and Rangoon-supported) Red Wa are producing and selling heroin in addition to their -up to now- major product, methamphetamine ("speed"). There still seems a high demand for heroin in Thailand. The Third Army chief confirmed this yesterday.
Last week a total of almost 15 million speed pills, but also about 9 kg of heroin have been seized in the same "deliveries".
It is generally known that the Red Wa had at least 55 speed pills plants along the Northern border between Thailand and Burma.
Some new production bases have been set up recently, with Karen Buddhist Army soldiers to guard them. It is not (yet) clear if they are heroin or speed pill plants.
In the past four months, the military have seized 30 million speed pills, the Third Army chief said, which is less than 10% of the speed pills produced near the Burmese border, within Burma. So one might think that the drugs trade and trafficking still are prospering.
The Red Wa are now also using trails through Tak province to smuggle drugs into Thailand .


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Birds disappeared from Dusit Zoo

Posted by hasekamp on 27 April 2001 at 16:36 PM
The World is becoming more crazy every day, as follows from this news item:
Six rare birds have been stolen from Dusit Zoo recently. The Police believe that they are in the hands of some rich collector. Dusit Zoo went to the Police after the theft on 14 April of five Amazon parrots, valued at 20,000 Baht each, and a pink cockatoo worth 150,000 Baht.
According to the employees of the Zoo visitors had asked if the zoo would be interested in trading the birds with those in their private collections.
If these visitors were the thieves, we wonder how they brought the birds outside the Zoo premises!
The director of the Zoo told reporters that also a number of other animals had mysteriously disappeared from the zoo in the recent past. (Source: Bangkok Post)


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Lead poisoned village to be helped

Posted by hasekamp on 27 April 2001 at 16:34 PM
We have reported twice before about a small village, where villagers were thought te have been poisoned because of the presence of a lead factory.
The cabinet will be asked to clean up the village (Lower Klity village) or to move the 200 Karen residents from the area.
This was said by the Deputy Health Minister. Help would be sought from the Army, he said. Some river-bed mud appeared to contain lead levels 10,000 times higher than normal, after an official investigation. If the mud can not be removed, the people should be moved to a safer -place. Another option could be permanently closing the Lead Concentrate Company.
The investigation was carried out by doctors from Siriraj, Ramathibodi and Chulalongkorn universities.
A spokesman for the Karen Studies and Development Center said residents should be temporarily relocated until the area was cleaned up. He said if the state was really keen about cleaning up the area, it could be done within a few weeks. The government also will be asked to file a lawsuit against the Lead Concentrate Company.
Especially if the last mentioned action will be taken too, we are very content about the attitude of the Thai government in this case, although we regret-ret that several people had to die before serious action was taken. (Find our former reports in our search box, for instance by entering "Klity").


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Lijia Cave to be sealed off for good?

Posted by hasekamp on 27 April 2001 at 16:33 PM
The opening and excavating of the Lijia cave, where a Japanese treasure from World War II was said to be hidden by Thai senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri, was stopped last week until satellite pictures would be available, as we have reported.
Now these pictures are available and have produced no evidence at all of any treasure, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday. Although the pictures (by a US satellite) were not very clear, the government nevertheless intends to permanently end all excavation activities at the cave, and also refuses to have it developed as a tourist spot. So the should be closed for good now.
To get more precise results from the satellite pictures, metal wires would have to be laid around the mountain where the Lijia cave is located. A number of trees would also have to be cut down. This would cause too much damage to the environment (given the small chance to find a treasure).
We consider this case closed (as will the cave be). We will only come back to this item if -very unexpectedly- a gigantic treasure would turn up after all!


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Another huge drugs catch

Posted by hasekamp on 26 April 2001 at 15:03 PM
The Thai Army has seized another huge quantity of drugs from traffickers on the country's border with Burma today.
More than six million speed pills and about 4.5 kg of heroin were seized after a brief clash with armed traffickers near the Northern town of Phobphra. Further details still lack.
Only last week we could report about a huge catch of drugs (nearly eight million pills).
The operation today gave the third largest seizure ever by the Thai authorities and -as said- was the second in the area within a week.
We hope that this second huge catch within one week proves that the hard-line policy of the Thaksin Shinawatra government against drug traffickers is successful. (Main source: BBC news)


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Treasure cave (update)

Posted by hasekamp on 26 April 2001 at 12:59 PM
The senator who started it all (the treasure hunting in a cave in Kanchanaburi, that is), Mr Chaowarin Latthasaksiri, has been cleared of any legal blame for having anything to do with the fake bonds that were recently seized by the police in Bangkok. These fake US bonds looked very similar to pictures of bonds, shown by the senator to -among others- PM Thaksin Shinawatra in front of the cave in Kanchanaburi, and were claimed by the senator to have been hidden in the cave (according to the press).
Five people have been arrested so far for their part in the fake bonds case.
Mr Chaowarin appeared to be a victim rather than a culprit, police said.
Mr Chaowarin said to the police that he obtained photocopies of the bonds from the group, arrested earlier. He said he did not know the suspects and had not met them before. The group had promised to present him with the documents in front of the Lijia cave in Kanchanaburi on April 17, but they did not turn up.
Mr Chaowarin yesterday denied having found a box containing the bonds and other valuables inside the cave, which is contradictory –as said- to former press releases. Mr Chaowarin said –however- that the media had put words in his mouth with the intention of damaging his reputation.
And how now about opening and excavating the cave? The Kanchanaburi forestry chief said that if Mr Chaowarin insisted in opening and excavating the cave, he would be arrested for violating the forestry law. Whatever will happen next, we estimate the chance that anything of value will be found in the cave is close to zero.


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Five billion Baht for Hat Yai

Posted by hasekamp on 25 April 2001 at 10:53 AM
The cabinet yesterday approved an investment of five billion Baht in flood prevention works for Songkhla and Hat Yai, where serious flooding took place late last year and early this year, on the short and medium term.
The cabinet disagreed however with a long-term plan for Hat Yai, to start after 2005, which would cost another five billion Baht. It said further study on this should be carried out.
After the flooding last year the NESDB, the committee for coordinating royal projects and Interior and Agriculture ministries was assigned to make a plan to prevent further flooding, which resulted in short, medium and long-term plans. The short-term plan, to be finished by this November, focuses on improving the city's drainage system, diverting water from canals and establishing a warning system.
The medium-term plan, to be conducted between 2002 and 2005 focuses on designing six water reservoirs and removing buildings that obstruct drainage and sewerage systems.
The long-term plan envisages construction of six new reservoirs and a reforestation project. This long term plan was –as said- not approved by the cabinet yesterday. (Source: Bangkok Post).


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Palm oil diesel popular

Posted by hasekamp on 25 April 2001 at 10:52 AM
Some time ago we have reported about severel Thai substitutes for diesel fuel, one partly based on coconut oil and one partly based on ethanol. (Use our search box to find the former reports). A third diesel substitute, partly based on palm oil has been introduced recently. This new product appaers to be a popular diesel-substitute for motorists in the southern province of Chumphon.
Not only motorists, but also fishermen, shrimp farmers, and petrol stations in the province hail the "Thai Palm Diesel". It helps them to cut transportation and production costs considerably. The price per liter is around 11 Baht, and almost 15 Baht for "classical" diesel. Therefore demand has risen considerably recently.
Previously -as said- in Prachaub Khiri Khan province a new fuel derived from coconut oil and another one derived from ethanol were also introduced.
The Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) unofficially guaranteed the standard of the "Thai Palm Diesel" recently.
With the support from the government, local palm oil producers can further reduce production costs of this crop-based oil alternative. That may lower the price further. (Main source: Thai News Agency).


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Biotechnology to concentrate on Thai products

Posted by hasekamp on 24 April 2001 at 23:30 PM
One of the aspects of the philosophy of His Majesty the King is the so called "sufficiency economy".
Within that philosophy an aim has been set for Thailand to be more self-sufficient in biotechnology, in order to reduce imports in that field and to stimulate the use of Thai products.
The Director-General of the Department of Medical Sciences (DMS) has said today that Thailand spends billions of Bahts every year on import of biotechnological products. If Thailand had its own research and development in this field, that would save the country substantially. And possibly also export of Thai biotechnological products would become possible. As a possible example the DG of the DMS mentioned an AIDS vaccine, developed from herbs.
A National Symposium on Medical Sciences will be held on 15 and 16 May in Bangkok to develop this kind of ideas further, among others in brainstorming sessions.
We find the idea of the "sufficiency economy" a very sympathetic and useful one. We have our doubts, however, if such never-seen-before things like an AIDS vaccine could so easily come from it! We even doubt if Thailand has the knowledge to replaces (most) imports of biotechnological products by its own products. But in the past Thailand has shown more than once to be able to great things. Who knows in what way Thailand will surprise us in the field of biotechnology!


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AIDS in Phuket

Posted by hasekamp on 24 April 2001 at 11:54 AM
Phuket is now on the third place in a ranking for Thai of provinces with the highest number of AIDS patients, the Health Ministry says.
The latest figures show 1,567 reported AIDS cases in Phuket, of which 1,214 are men. Eighty-four percent of the patients are believed to have contracted the disease through sexual transmission.
Only Payao and Chiang Mai provinces score higher on the list.
The idea now is to organize a workshop on AIDS prevention in Phuket, which must be attended not only by medical doctors and nurses but also by representatives of local organizations, including operators of entertainment outlets and producers of pornographic material.
We wonder if such a workshop will have any effect, but the future must teach us so. Once more we find that in Thailand many problems are being "solved" by organizing a seminar, workshop or whatever it is being called. This can be helpful in determining a strategy, but we sometimes get the impression that the problem is considered to have been solved after the seminar or workshop is over!


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Doctor murder case goes to prosecutor

Posted by hasekamp on 24 April 2001 at 11:53 AM
We have reported about Dr Wisuth, the medical doctor from Chualalongkorn University Hospital, that allegedly killed his wife and cut her up to pieces. Pieces of human flesh, identified by DNA tests as belonging to his wife, were found in the septic tanks of two hotels, where Dr Wisuth has stayed shortly after the disappearance of his wife, who also was a medical doctor at the same hospital. A skeleton has not been found so far.
The police now say that the case will be ready to hand over to the public early next month the latest, even if Dr Wisuth continues to deny the charges, as he has done until today.
Police believe that the evidence they obtained is enough to prove that Dr Wisuth murdered his wife, although sources say that Police are not so certain that Dr Wisuth would be found guilty in court.
There are many similarities between this case and a case that hit the headlines a few years ago, when a medical student killed his girlfriend and cut the body to pieces. Then human flesh was found in the same septic tank as where it was found now. The student was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder then, but mainly because of his confession.
Now there is no confession, however, but only DNA tests that match Dr Wisuth’s wife and the evidence that Dr Wisuth stayed in the places where the flesh was found.


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Karaoke bars to go legal

Posted by hasekamp on 24 April 2001 at 11:51 AM
Karaoke bars and restaurants in Thailand will be ordered to buy legal karaoke software and pay monthly fee to the music copyright holders. This is one of many measures we have heard about to promote the use of legal software and music. As any visitor to Thailand will know, illegal copies of software and copyrighted works prosper in Thailand. As far as we can see, all these plans do not have much effect. Nevertheless it is being tried again: The Deputy Director-General of the Department of Intellectual Property told reporters that the organizations concerned, including the owners of karaoke bars and restaurants, had held a meeting to discuss the copyright issue and came up with this solution.
The owners of karaoke bars and restaurants will buy legal karaoke software from RMS, the company that develops the software. The software costs 5,000 Baht and contain 6,500 songs, copyright paid.


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Oxygen bar in Bangkok

Posted by hasekamp on 23 April 2001 at 20:32 PM
Everybody knows that Bangkok, like many other large Cities, has much air pollution. Therefore some clever Thai businesswoman has found something to help you: Go to the Oxygen bar and breathe some fresh air! The new bar opened on the sixth floor of the Siam Discovery Center three weeks ago and promises instant relief from any disadvantageous effects of air pollution.
It is not free, of course, like the -relatively- fresh air in Lumphini Park.
A "relaxing package" costs 95 Baht, and consists of a 20-minute breath of oxygen, aroma-therapy, special music and a refreshing drink.
The clever manager of the place (who would not find it clever to sell fresh air for money?) says that "oxygen kits" have already been offered in health clubs, but that this service has never been offered in a public place, like a bar.
The manager has experienced the refreshing effect of oxygen at her own house, where she has her own oxygen tank. The new bar attracts about 40 customers a day and a few more on the weekend. Every customer gets 20 minutes, just enough time to relax without eating into busy schedules, she said. She seems not interested in longer visits of her guests.
Meanwhile health specialists warn that exposing the body to larger quantities of oxygen than normal can be harmful.
The Public Health Ministry is very skeptical about the health aspects of the new bar. According to a spokeswoman this kind of therapy should only be handled by people holding a proper medical license.
Others from the medical profession say that good nutrition, some exercise and avoiding heavily polluted places will have a more beneficial effect to the human body.


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Monk beaten to death

Posted by hasekamp on 22 April 2001 at 17:19 PM
This is a very sad news item, based on a news item on the website of The Nation: The abbot of Wat Phra Kaew in Muang district (Bangkok) was beaten to death today and robbed of one million Baht in cash and three amulets. Theft and robbing takes place everywhere in the World, but robbing and killing a Monk is a vile crime, beyond comprehension to most Thai people. We have no doubt that the Police will do its utmost to solve this crime.
The body of Phra Kroo Sangkharak was found under a tree in the temple compound but Police said they suspected the monk was attacked in his living quarter, quite far from that place. So far the Police believe that there was more than one attacker. We have criticized the Thai Police several times on these pages, and sadly not completely without reason, but we do hope they will be able to show their best side now.


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Scams to be punished at last?

Posted by hasekamp on 22 April 2001 at 17:08 PM
A new campaign has started in Thailand to get rid of hotels, jewelry suppliers and tour operators that cheat tourists. We welcome this initiative, coordinated by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) very much. Especially the jewelry scams are something Thailand should be ashamed of. Every year complaints about these reach us.
A committee will now coordinate efforts to clean up the mentioned trades. It includes people from the the Foreign Ministry, the Attorney-General's Office, and tourist police.
The government knows very well that complaints about jewelry suppliers, who are being charging far too high prices for (often) low-grade stock, are annoying tourists the most. But so fat nobody did something about them. Let us hope that the new committee can do something about this. To give you and idea: Thais pay 40% less in large jewelry stores than tourists! This has nothing to do any more with fair trade!
Shops in Chanasongkram, Chakkawat, Plabplachai, Nang Lerng, Phaya Thai, Pathumwan , Samranraj, Sam Sen, Bang Rak and Makkasan are to be targeted in the first place. We know a few bad places in Phuket too!
Police have been told to enforce the law against businesses that take unfair advantage of tourists. Restaurants and jewelry shops will have to show prices of their goods and refrain from overcharging.
As far as the tour business is concerned: Unlicensed tour guides will be arrested.
Furthermore hotels will be asked to tell tourists about the possibility of falling prey to dishonest taxi drivers and jewelry stores. This last item of the campaign is particularly interesting, because many hotels act as "middle men" for jewelry shops and receive commission from them! (Source: Bangkok Post)


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Monk donates gold and money again

Posted by hasekamp on 22 April 2001 at 16:46 PM
A Thai Monk, Luangta Maha Bua has handed over gold and money, donated by hisa followers, to the government before. We last reported about this in July 2000. Then he donated the gold (and money) to the Chuan Leekpai government.
Yesterday, the Monk handed over 1,025 kg of gold and US$1 million donated by the general public to the present Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, at Sanam Luang in Bangkok.
This new donation brings the total of cash donations by this Monk to $5,278,000 and the total of the gold to 2,062 kg.
The Monk, abbot of Wat Pa Ban Tad in Udon Thani, started his campaign to replenish the foreign reserves of Thailand after the financial crisis hit the country in 1997.
Followers of the Monk attended the ceremony and arrived in 50 buses in Bangkok. The handing-over ceremony was presided by Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn. Luangta Maha Bua gave a two-hour sermon in which he stressed the importance of sacrifice for the Nation's survival.
Deputy Finance Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said the government would consult the monk and his followers on how to use the money.
A new round of collecting money (for the next donation) started right after the ceremony. Forge the iron while it is hot...


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Stricter immigration rules. When?

Posted by hasekamp on 21 April 2001 at 17:27 PM
Months ago the (former) government has announced to implement stricter immigration rules for the citizens of some countries. (Use our search box to find former items). Apparently nothing has happened yet. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said that his government wants the same thing. He said so during the tourism workshop in Chiang Mai.
"We must monitor tourists from nations who arrive but do not leave. Thirty per cent of Indian tourists become illegal immigrants. And some Africans are notorious for smuggling drugs. We must review policies on the issue and may have to cancel visa approval in some areas", Mr Thaksin said.
Mr Thaksin said Thailand was too generous in granting visas, especially visas on arrival, when some nations were not as open for Thai tourists. This is -to us- an echo of what the former government has said, but never implemented. At the moment Thailand grants visas on arrival to travelers from 95 nations. We are waiting for government action. Should that ever come, we will inform our readers.


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The continuing cave story

Posted by hasekamp on 21 April 2001 at 17:26 PM
Historically interesting material, such as animal bones, a stone hammer and shards of pottery were found on Thursday at Lijia Cave in Kanchanaburi, the place of the treasure hunt by a senator and his followers. (see our earlier extensive coverage). This suggests clear evidence of prehistoric life from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods in the area, archaeologists from the Fine Arts Department said yesterday.
About 30 discoveries around the controversial cave were brought to the Office of Archaeology and National Museums in Thewes district (Bangkok), to ascertain the age of them.
These articles were found on the surface of the cave, about four meters from the entrance. "The site had been badly disturbed, which destroyed some important archaeological evidence", the director said.
The Royal Forestry Department is in charge of protecting the cave. It ordered senator Chaowarin's team to stop digging and destroying the site. However the senator and his friends are still exploring the site.
Whatever may come out of the cave, it seems that the use of the gold-digging expedition at least may have been that some interesting archeological discoveries were made. We still have to hope that the hot-headed gold-diggers will not further destroy them...


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Tourism workshop gives results

Posted by hasekamp on 21 April 2001 at 17:25 PM
Last week we have reported about a workshop on tourism, to be held in Chiang Mai and to be presided by PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Over 400 participants from the tourism industry, cabinet members and representatives of tourist-related businesses, attended the workshop.
Here are some of the results:
- Chiang Mai Phuket will become duty-free cities within the next three months. The government will also allocate a total budget of over one billion Baht in order to promote local tourism there.
The plan to develop these duty-free cities will not only attract more tourist arrivals in the provinces, but also bring more revenues to the country, according to Premier Thaksin.
- A sub-committee, headed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), will be set up to explore and develop new tourist sites, such as national parks, sea-bound attractions, and historic places. Also existing tourist destinations should be upgraded.
- The Public Health Minister plans to launch a "Clean Food, Good Taste" Project, aimed to encourage local food houses and restaurants to focus not only on good tastes, but also on food hygiene, as well as to promote production of new healthy items for tourists.
- The Director-General of the Royal Forest Department proposed that the Lijia cave in the western province of Kanchanaburi, where the recent treasure-hunting took place, should be developed as a new historic museum to attract more tourists.
We were stunned to read that the participants at the workshop initially agreed with this idea. Luckily there still, are environmentalists who will doubtless oppose this plan, to explore a National Park site in this way!


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Thai movie in Cannes

Posted by hasekamp on 21 April 2001 at 17:24 PM
We do not hear or see often about Thai movies in the West. An exception is the movie "Fah Talai Jone", by Wisit Sasanatieng. This is the first Thai movie to be included in the Cannes Film Festival. It will be included in the "Uncertain Regard" section at this year's festival. It is among 22 movies selected for this section. The section forms an out-of-competition, but nevertheless influential, part of the festival.
Wisit made the movie as a tribute to a Thai western genre that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The movie was no success at all in Thailand (so far!). It only brought in 10 million Baht at the box offices. However, "Fah Talai Jone" has received acclaim when it won the Dragon and Tiger Award at the 19th Vancouver International Film Festival last autumn. The Cannes Festival director became interested in the movie when he saw it in Vancouver.
Wisit said: "When I first made this movie I didn't expect it to appeal to Westerners: it was really intended only for a Thai audience".
After Cannes scheduled the movie, its sales have boosted. It has been pre-sold in the Netherlands, France and the US up to now. Film Bangkok expects it would have sold even more if it had won a prize at Cannes. The company hopes that Cannes will reconsider its opinion and put it in the competition after all, a spokesman said.
"Fah Talai Jone" will be shown at the 54th Cannes Film Festival on May 14 or 15 under the English title "Tears of the Black Tiger", selected for the international market. So watch for this movie at your local cinema!


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No treasure after all?!

Posted by hasekamp on 20 April 2001 at 15:16 PM
The treasure hunting in Kanchanaburi province is taking bizarre forms at the moment.
It looks as if the treasure is nothing more or less that a hoax. But with consequences for the senator who started it. Here are the latest developments.
In the first place four (according to one news source five) people have been arrested, possessing fake pre-war US Federal Reserve bonds with a face value of US$ 25 billion. These fake bonds look like two drops of water like the papers that were produced earlier by senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri, who claimed to have found them as part of a treasure, dating from the Japanese, while leaving Thailand in a hurry at the end of World War II. The treasure was said to consist of gold and bonds. See our earlier reports. The senator showed his bonds to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week.
The people arrested with the fake bonds are two Filipinos, a Singaporean and a Thai. They were seized yesterday in an operation, with prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s brother, Payab Shinawatra in a star role. The four men were seized when they showed up at Deutsche Bank on Wireless Road in Bangkok, in order to sell the bonds to Mr Payab, who had posed as a buyer. So the brother of the PM will now either become a hero or -if the bonds seized should appear to have nothing to do with the ones shown by the senator- has lost face in a painful way!
The persons arrested are accused of having brought the fake bonds into Thailand seven months ago. The papers were put in safe-keeping at Deutsche Bank in Bangkok under the name of their Thai partner.
The police had been tipped by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on 17 April, that the US Federal Reserve bonds shown to him in pictures by Mr Chaowarin might not be authentic.
So far the police has not yet declared if the bonds seized from the bank are identical to those, shown by the senator a few days ago, but this is under investigation.
As we reported earlier, the Finance Ministry declared that the US bonds which Mr Chaowarin claimed were found inside the Lijia cave in Kanchanaburi province, could not be real.
Mr Chaowarin is in an awkward position now. He has been hunting for the Japanese war treasure for almost ten years and announced last week that he found 250 bonds in the Lijia cave in Kanchanaburi province, issued by the US Federal Reserve in 1934, each with a face value of US $100 million.
Mr Thaksin flew to Lijia cave last Friday in response to Mr Chaowarin's claims and huge $$ signs showed up in Mr Thaksin’s eyes. He said he saw only pictures, but the treasure would greatly benefit the country if it really existed.
Later the opening of the cave was suspended, on government order. We reported that too. The suspension of the opening of the cave was highly probably the result of warnings to the PM by his advisors that there might be no treasure at all, and he should not occupy himself with the matter. What we know for certain anyway, is that MP’s have questioned Mr Thaksin about the incident. Soon afterwards Mr Thaksin had somebody declare for him that he had to be in Kanchanaburi anyway when he went to the cave and that he just went there to see the senator, whom he knew personally. Despite the huge $$ signs in his eyes, Mr Thaksin tried to save his face in advance by this declaration. He added that he had never admitted that there was a treasure hidden in the cave.
Meanwhile senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri and his expedition team refused to break their camp at the Lijia Cave after the Forestry Department had sealed off the site.
At the same time Mr Chaowarin's colleagues at the Senate were scheduling a debate about his treasure-hunt. Mr Chaowarin did not attend that senate debate.
After the debate Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Affairs, Mr Phanat Thassaneeyanond asked Mr Chaowarin to resign from his post as a senator, as he has brought disgrace to the Senate as an institution. He had not only done so by the plundering of the cave -more or less- in the name of the Senate, but he also had violated the highest institution of the country, by mentioning his intention to have an audience with His Majesty the King on the issue.
As you see, the treasure hunting is getting follow-ups on several levels and we can be certain that this news item will not be the last one about this case!


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Almost 8 million speed pills seized

Posted by hasekamp on 19 April 2001 at 11:18 AM
A Thai army special task force had a clash with pro-Rangoon Karen guerrillas on Monday. The Thai army was far superior and the Karen fled, leaving behind almost 8 million speed pills.
No reports were made about casualties or dead on either side.
Sources say that the pills seized were part of a total of 40 million speed pills that had been planned planned to smuggle into Thailand during the Songkran festival. No mention has been made about the whereabouts of the remaining 32 million pulls. we fear that they reachhed Thailand after all.
However, as we reported yesterday, the traffickers have to reckon with a death sentence and prompt execution, broadcasted live on TV.


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Economic update

Posted by hasekamp on 19 April 2001 at 11:07 AM
As our regular readers know, now and then we give a short economic update for Thailand.
Today Thai stocks opened up 9.09 points at 306.42. For the first time since several months the SET index was above 300 again. Turnover was very high (one billion Baht in first five minutes of trade). The direct cause of this jump in the SET was the sharp of the US stock markets, after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates last night by half a percentage point. It remains to be seen if the SET can stay above 300 today, the "day after the night before".
The Thai Baht traded for 45.43 against the US$, no reason to give a party for Mr Thaksin, we suppose. Nevertheless the Thai government keeps saying that the economic performance of Thailand is not bad, compared to the rest of region.


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Weekly executions planned. Live on TV

Posted by hasekamp on 18 April 2001 at 13:53 PM
Just a few days ago we reported that drug offenders will be excluded from the privilege of asking a Royal pardon, if the governments gets it this way. Now Associated Press reports that Thailand plans to execute drug offenders in weekly sessions, starting today. This new measure is intended to deter drugs traffickers.
A Ministerial spokesman said "We are executing convicted narcotics offenders quickly to send a clear signal to drug traffickers that this government is serious about taking tough action against them". Although there has been discussions to carry out executions by lethal injections lately, executions are still carried out by firing squads in Thailand.
At the moment there are 19 prisoners on death row in Thailand. Eleven were convicted for trafficking in methamphetamines and heroin. Three prisoners are to be executed on Wednesday. And to make the executions even more deterring, journalists willd be allowed to film part of the executions, prison officials said. It is not clear if today's executions will be broadcasted already.
We honestly wonder what TV channels will be broadcasting them! We believe that Thailand goes much too far here. Executions are very much disputed worldwide already, but execution "live on TV" is unseen anywhere in the modern World. In the Middle Ages in Europe public executions were normal, but we have the Middle Ages long behind us now. We expect International protests and possible isolation of Thailand, if it goes this far.
The three prisoners to die today are a 47-year-old man from Hong Kong, a 33-year-old Taiwanese man and a 40-year-old Thai man. Two people from death row, convicted for non-drug crimes will be execuited too today. These executions will not be on TV.


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Opening of treasure cave has started (updated)

Posted by hasekamp on 17 April 2001 at 12:57 PM
After senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri, from Ratchaburi, claimed to have found a cave in Kanchanaburi province, containing treasures, left by the Japanese after leaving in a hurry at the end of World War II, speculations and digging have started. The senator has been searching for the cave for more than 10 years.
The speculations are being made by everybody in Thailand, in the first place by the senator. The senator claims that not only a huge treasure of gold, but also bonds (worth 25 billion US$), issued by the US Government, would come out of the cave.
The digging is to be done by the Forestry Department. The first efforts by a team of forestry officials to open the cave were suspended yesterday evening. There was a danger that the front part of the cave would collapse, after a large piece of rock that obstructed the entrance was found. The drilling will resume later today, with the use of a machine to pulverize the rock.
The claimed bonds, supposed to be worth 25 billion of US$, must be fake, according to Thailand's Deputy Finance Minister. He has said the issue of papers, worth such an enormous amount of money, was not possible at the time. But even if they should be real, they most likely are expired, being supposed to have been issued more than 60 years ago. (And if the Thai authorities can not prove that the bonds are fake or expired, the US government will doubtless be willing to help them with this!). So: exit for the bonds. And now how about the gold?
We reported a few days ago that part of it had already been recovered from the cave. This appears not to be true.
So after all it could be such, that nothing of any value at all will appear from the cave. We will keep you informed, as more news comes from Kanchanaburi.
Later an order came to suspend the drilling until satellite pictures, from the area around the cave are available.
In the meantime environmentalists are trying to sue the Forestry Deportment. The National Park Act allows only limited use of National Parks, which definitely does not include treasure hunting.
Furthermore the environmentalists fear that the cave will become a tourist attraction. And, above all, they do not believe that any treasure will be found there at all. Lawyers are studying the case for the environmentalists now.


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Bad tourist firms to be blacklisted

Posted by hasekamp on 16 April 2001 at 13:07 PM
A workshop on tourism is to be held in Chiang Mai on 20-21 April. The workshop will be presided by PM Thaksin Shinawatra. There are many seminars, workshops and whatever they call it being held in Thailand every month, if not every week.
The interesting thing about this one is -however- that a blacklist will be made, containing tourist companies that offer low quality service.
This is something we greet with great enthusiasm. There are tourist agencies in every hotel, in every guesthouse and certainly in every street in Thailand. Many offer good quality for a reasonable price. But some don't. It is a great idea to blacklist them. The only question remaining is how a tourist can distinguish the good companies from the bad ones. Will there also be some certificate for the companies that offer good quality? So far the Thai news sources do not answer this question. It would, however, be the only effective way to implement a blacklist!


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No more mercy for traffickers

Posted by hasekamp on 15 April 2001 at 15:26 PM
Drug traffickers on death row could soon loose their right to petition for a Royal pardon, because of the seriousness of their crime, sources on the Interior Ministry say.
Convicts on death row now have the right to appeal to His Majesty the King within 60 days of the final verdict.
The government finds that those, found guilty of selling drugs are a serious threat to society. Hence they should no longer have the right to ask for a Royal pardon.
At the moment most prisoners on death row -if not all- do petition for a Royal pardon, after their sentence is final.
There are 11 convicted drug traffickers on death row at the moment, all waiting for a Royal pardon.
There have been no executions in Thailand for several decades, but with new intensity of drugs trafficking this has changed. Only last week a drug trafficker was executed.
All petitions to the King for a Royal pardon are carefully being screened by officials, who then advise the King.
Thailand being a Constitutional Monarchy, the Cabinet is responsible for the deeds of the King, including him granting pardon. Therefore government officials play an important part in the procedure. We believe, though, that the King has some freedom to follow his own conscience in pardoning prisoners.


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The shadow of Songkran... (updated)

Posted by hasekamp on 15 April 2001 at 15:25 PM
We have reported about many accidents in the Songkran holiday period recently. The final figures seem to be available now: At least 489 people have been killed and more than 38,000 injured in road accidents during the Songkran holiday period, up to this (Sunday) evening, according to the Health Ministry. The total property damage and other costs from accidents are estimated to be over 13 billion Baht.
Some more statistics: 4.3 people died every hour of the holiday period in road accidents and 220 were injured every hour. The highest death toll was in the Northeast, followed by the North and the Central Region.
More than 1,700 highway police were on duty to manage traffic during the festival, the police said.
There also is a slightly positive message: Bangkok was relatively free of crime during the Songkran festival, police said. Hardly any sexual harassment has been reported, contrary to last year.


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Gold found!

Posted by hasekamp on 14 April 2001 at 13:20 PM
Did we yesterday report that probably a large quantity of gold had been found in Kanchanaburi province, today the Thai news media confirm the found.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has hurried to the site and offered assistance (in claiming the ownership?)
We now also can mention that the lucky treasure hunter was Ratchaburi senator Chaowarin Latthasaksiri. He has been often mocked for his (long lasting) search for the treasure. Now it seems that the quantity of gold he has found could be enough to pay off Thailand's national debt!
"At this stage, the government will give him support if the search does not cause any damage", said Mr Thaksin after visiting the site yesterday.
As we reported yesterday, Mr Chaowarin is seeking a Royal audience (on Tuesday) to report his find to HM the King. Part of the treasure seems to be kept at a house in Bangkok and is to be revealed to the public on Wednesday.


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Gold discovered?

Posted by hasekamp on 13 April 2001 at 18:41 PM
For tens of years there have been rumors that there is a treasure of gold hidden in a cave in Kanchanaburi province. We have reported about this strong rumor some time ago. Then it appeared to be a false alarm. The gold is believed to have been left in the cave by retreating Japanese soldiers during World War II.
It now has been claimed that 2,500 tons of gold were discovered there. This news has drawn the attention of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who immediately ordered government officials to investigate whether the claimed discovery is true. If so, an investigation about its ownership will be carried out. We bet that the government will claim the ownership of the gold!
The person(s) who claimed to have found the gold is (are) seeking an audience with His Majesty the King to report the findings. More than 100 forestry officials have sealed the two entrances of the cave in order to protect it from "curious eyes" (and hands, no doubt).


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Today is Songkran Day

Posted by hasekamp on 13 April 2001 at 18:40 PM
Today is Songkran Day, the old Thai New Years Day. Traditionally families get together, in the morning the hands of aged loved ones are poured with scented water, and in the afternoon, until dark, water fights bursts out everywhere in the country, and nobody will keep his clothes dry! Read our earlier experience with Songkran on http://www.hasekamp.net/expsongkran.htm
We further suggest our readers to look tomorrow the Bangkok Post website (http://www.bangkokpost.com), this traditionally being the newspaper with the best Songkran picture.
Songkran celebrations in Bangkok take mainly place at Sanam Luang this year. Songkran Day started this morning, as every festive day should start, with offering alms to Buddhist monks, giving baths to Buddha images, and paying respect to the elderly, as mentioned above.
The festivities in Bangkok on Sanam Luang include a floral parade, a beauty contest, and cultural shows.
An interesting detail is that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra seems to be the most popular male politician, as the majority of questioned people say they want to pour perfumed water on his hands during the Songkran Festival, according to a Suan Dusit poll.
In the meantime, as we predicted lately, the Songkran Festival has its dark side too: At least 93 people are reported to have been killed in traffic accidents (doubtless most of them with alcohol involved) and more than 4800 are reported to have been injured, only up to midnight today, that is up to Songkran eve...


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Boeing says it was an accident

Posted by hasekamp on 12 April 2001 at 15:28 PM
We have reported some time ago that the Thai authorities would follow the conclusions of the US investigation in the explosion of an airplane on Don Muang airport (that was to carry PM Thaksin Shinawatra) in early March.
The Boeing company has spoken now: They believe that a technical problem caused the explosion.
The American experts think that a gas produced by a chemical reaction inside a fuel tank and foam in the air-conditioning system has caused a wrong reading in the gas chromatograph used by Thai investigators, in which an explosive was thought to be found.
Boeing seems to be considering to make some changes to all 737-400 planes, as a result of this investigation. We expect the Thai authorities to accept the findings of Boeing, because this will lead to financial compensation. And who would throw away such a compensation by being stubborn? So, expect an official end of the search for terrorists soon...


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Genetically manipulated food to be eradicated?

Posted by hasekamp on 12 April 2001 at 15:27 PM
More food products on the Thai market than the six of which we reported yesterday may contain genetically modified organisms (GMO), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand said yesterday. The government has been asked by environmentalists to eradicate GM crops still existing in the country. In the meantime the FDA will do a random survey of food products sold in the Thailand. The FDA has not conducted such a survey earlier because in Thailand had there is no ban on GMO products.
Voices are rising to make Thailand GMO-free. An advantage would be that in interesting markets such as the European Union and Japan the public is opposed against GMO products. And in that way the report, published by Greenpeace can be turned into business: If Thailand can guarantee GMO-free products, there would be an interesting export market. Some businessmen speak of a "golden opportunity".
However ... there might be serious resistance from farmers, who still have crops that contain GMO’s. To solve this problem it has been suggested to make animal feed out of these crops, before creating a ban on GMO containing products. We believe that this would not solve anything really. Would GMO-containing meat be acceptable? We believe that if Thailand truly wants to become GMO free, it has to pay the price that policy would cost, including destroying existing crop and paying compensation to the farmers who still grow these crops.
At the moment it therefore is far from clear what Thailand will do. Will labeling of GMO products be the only measure after all? Or will nothing be done at all? We are a bit skeptical, but will be following this issue.


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Genetically modified food products

Posted by hasekamp on 11 April 2001 at 14:22 PM
Seven food products, including baby food products, in Thailand appear to contain genetically modified products, according to Greenpeace.
The seven products are: Nestle baby food (Baby Cerelac); Unilever's Knorr instant cream of corn soup; Nissin Cup Noodle (duck flavour); Vita-Tofu soybean curd; Good Time instant cereal beverage; Lay's stax and Pringles potato crisps.
Only Lay's stax and Pringles is imported from the US, the remaining products are being produced locally. The general public was not aware of these facts.
"It is shocking to know that these genetically engineered items are already ending up in our food without the public's knowledge or consent. Thai consumers have the right to refuse being treated like guinea pigs in what is a massive experiment with potentially far-reaching and irreversible consequences", a spokeswoman from Greenpeace Southeast Asia said.
The comments by the firms concerned is highly disappointing: One manufacturer said: "It is too late to do anything about this contamination. It is everywhere in this country".
Nevertheless, even if this should be true, we believe that the Thai consumers have a right to see clearly on the labels of the products they buy if they are contaminated with genetically modified ingredients!


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Lead poisoning to be investigated

Posted by hasekamp on 11 April 2001 at 14:21 PM
Recently we have reported about a small village where inhabitants believe several of their loved ones were poisoned by lead pollution. We were not very happy then about the reaction by the Thai authorities. Now we can report that the deputy Public Health Minister plans to send a fact-finding mission to the place (Lower Klity Village in Kanchanaburi Province). A medical doctor said that a team of health experts will tour Klity creek this month to come up with a clear conclusion about the alleged poisonings. Information about the problem from different (official) sources appears to be far different.
The fact-finding team is to survey the number of villagers who have suffered from lead-related illness. The information from the fact-finding mission will be used to devise a strategy to completely solve the problem. Although this initiative apparently comes years too late, we are nevertheless happy that the eyes of the Thais authorities have now at last been opened.


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All transportation tickets sold out!

Posted by hasekamp on 11 April 2001 at 13:51 PM
Yesterday we reported about the Songkran Festival and the difficulty to find a hotel room then. Today we can add that all plane, train and bus tickets all over Thailand are sold out for the Songkran holiday! This is despite extra flights, buses and trains added to the normal schedules. So, if you are still planning any trip these days and you do not yet have a ticket, you can forget it! Sold out!
The Thai police, in the meantime, has announces extra alcohol checks on motorists. Happy Songkran! (Songkran Day is on 13 April, which is this Friday).


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Traders in wild orchids should be punished harder

Posted by hasekamp on 10 April 2001 at 14:35 PM
An wildlife protection official said yesterday that the punishment for trading in wild animals and plants is too light. Therefore it is not possible to extinct this trade. A trader who is being caught and only gets a low punishment will start again and the trade will never end. The maximum penalty for traders of wild orchids now is one year in prison, or a fine of 10,000 Baht. This clearly is not enough. We support this view. And often the Court will not pass the maximum sentence, and in most cases the traders will only have to pay a (relatively low) fine.
This leads to excesses: Yesterday officials seized 3,500 bunches of preserved wild orchids at Chatuchak market in Bangkok. The value of the seized flowers was estimated at 70,000 Baht, but a wildlife environmentalist though it was closer to 200,000 Baht.
Wild orchids are being collected from wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
Between October last year and March this year 15,381 bunches of wild orchids were seized from Chatuchak market and surrounding areas. The seized orchids are being sent to botanical gardens for recovery and then returned to the wild.


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Thaksin will use any force against terrorists

Posted by hasekamp on 10 April 2001 at 14:33 PM
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said that his government will take drastic actions -if necessary- to bring the terrorists to justice, who planted bombs in two Southern provinces recently. He intends to capture any Muslim separatist guerrillas still active in the (Muslim-majority) Southern provinces.
His literal words were "The government will spare no effort to capture people who carried out bomb attacks, regardless of their motives. We will use all means to get at these ill-intentioned people, including the use of lethal force, if necessary".
In the meantime it is reported form Hat Yai that at least 20% of the Songkran hotel reservations there have been cancelled since the recent bomb attacks.
Songkran is the occasion in Thailand for families to unite, in order to celebrate the Thai New Year (Songkran) together. Family members travel to the place where their oldest relatives live and settle for a few days in a hotel there. Therefore between 10 and 15 April it normally is very difficult -if possible at all- to find a hotel room anywhere in Thailand. Also in the Songkran period many road accidents happen, most of them as a consequence of the use of alcohol!


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Private sector to run resorts in forests

Posted by hasekamp on 10 April 2001 at 14:31 PM
The Forest Industry Organization in Thailand wants the private sector to operate tourist resorts in 20 community forests. At first this project will start in two of its forests: the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang province and Kroengkawia Forest in Kanchanaburi Province. The private sector will be invited to bid for licenses.
The Forest Industry Organization has about 100 community forests under its responsibility, 20 of which will be dedicated to tourism. Lodgings have already been built in the target community forests, each of which can accommodate about 40 tourists.
We are not against the so called "eco tourism" and we believe that -if this new form of tourism will be controlled properly- this can open an interesting new market for tourism in Thailand. A thorough control by non-corrupt officials is essential for this new form of tourism, in our opinion.


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Another foreign film to be shot in Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 9 April 2001 at 11:49 AM
Some things seem (very) hard to learn: The Film Board of Thailand has granted permission for another film to be shot on location in Thailand. As we (and others) have reported time after time, all those million-$$ productions do hardly have any beneficial effects for Thailand. They mostly do have harmful effects on Thai environment, however. We only have to recall productions like "The Beach", that spoiled part of Phuket Province and a recent Japanese TV game, that endangered or even spoiled another island with a unique flora and fauna. We have reported about these productions.
Now the Film Board of Thailand has granted permission for a British TV-movie "The Swiss Family Robinson" to be filmed on location in Thailand.
The British filmmaker is expected to spend 10 million US$ or about 400 million Baht on the film. That may be true, but how much of this money is going to Thailand? The shooting of the film will take place –like always with these productions- in the Southern provinces of Phuket, Phang-Nga, Krabi and Trang. These are the provinces where there is still some beautiful nature left, that can be destroyed forever by the film makers with their $$ signs in their eyes. The shooting will take place between May and August 2002. We hope that Thai environmentalists will wake up before then and protest (again) against this million $$ business at the expense of Thai nature. In the past protests have had little effect, but one never knows…
For your further information: According to the Film Board of Thailand, a total of 402 foreign movies were shot on location in Thailand last year. On top of the list of the foreign filmmakers, shooting in Thailand last year was Japan, with 149 movies, followed by Hong Kong, with 34 movies and the US and India, with 22 movies each. The Film Board of Thailand publishes these figures as if Thailand should be proud of this. The past has shown (to us at least) that every time such a film is being shot, a part of Thai environment is destroyed. So, isn’t this too high a price for renting a few hotels rooms and buying a few meals for the film crew?


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Three bomb attacks in Southern Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 8 April 2001 at 12:56 PM
Yesterday three people were found dead and over 20 were injured in an explosion in a railway station in Hat Yai in Southern Thailand.
The explosion is believed to have been caused by a C-4 bomb (the same type of bomb that is believed to have caused the airplane explosion early March on Bangkok airport, if that was a bomb at all; the investigation is still continuing).
Remains and components of a C-4 explosive were found at Hat Yai railway station, at the place where tickets are being sold. The explosion took place near that point.
A radio station quoted a police officer, saying that over 26 people were found injured.
A similar bombing attack took place a few days ago at a local police station in the Southern province of Narathiwat. As it appears now, there had been a warning there, that a bombing attack would take place later at the Hat Yai railway station.
An third bomb attack has been reported yesterday in a hotel car park in the town of Betong near the Malaysian border. Five people were lightly injured.
Police believe that Muslim separatist groups are behind the bombings. In Southern Thailand many Muslims live, and among them are extremists.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is highly displeased with the Southern authorities for failing to prevent the Hat Yai bombing, because -as stated earlier- there had been a clear warning!
"I don't understand why, after there were reports that a sabotage attack was likely, that authorities can fail to prevent such an extremely serious incident", Mr Thaksin said.
No one still has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Muslim separatist groups are under high suspicion.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has visited Hat Yai today to inspect the damage and meet provincial officials. Mr Thaksin was accompanied by his Defense and Interior Ministers.
The defense of the authorities, why they could not have prevented the bombing at Hat Yai was weak: "Even though Army intelligence learned about the possibility that a bomb would be planted, we could not prevent it because we didn't have precise details of the attack, and the scene was very crowded", they said. This is not the first time the Thai authorities show a poor performance in crime prevention ands crime solving. We believe that Mr Thaksin will start to build a stronger police force, as he has criticized the police several times already since he took the office of PM.


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Villagers remember poisoned relatives

Posted by hasekamp on 2 April 2001 at 18:05 PM
It is often believed that environmental negligence is only (or mainly) an issue in developing countries. Those who have seen recent films like the oscar-winning "Erin Brockovich" know better by now.
These things do happen in Thailand too, however: The Karen village of Lower Klity Creek at the edge of Thung Yai Naresuan wildlife sanctuary in Northern Thailand will build a memorial to remember locals that are believed to have died of lead poisoning. The villagers will honor the memory of their dead by displaying pieces of the bones of ten villagers who died since 1993 (officially) of "unknown causes". The bone pieces have been retrieved after cremation and will be kept in coffee bottles.
The assistant village head (assistant "kamnan") began to suspect lead poisoning in 1995, after ten of his buffaloes died and several villagers fell sick first and died soon afterwards. The bodies of those who had died were swollen. But not only adults, but also fifteen children are believed to have been poisoned by the lead contamination, even before they could celebrate their first birthday!
The villagers have asked for attention in 1998 by filing complaints with the Pollution Control Department. There being nobody like Erin Brockovich around, control staff confirmed that the lead extracting plant discharged untreated wastewater into the creek, the plant owner was fined with (just) 2,000 Baht, the plant was shut down and that was it. No compensation, nothing at all for the villagers. Blood tests later did confirm high lead levels in some villagers.
It is always sad to read that poor people find hardly any help in legal actions against polluters. Now the Karen from this tiny village even have to build their own memorial and the plant owner probably has started a new plant elsewhere. The only thing we can add is that we hope that the new memorial will make people aware of the dangers of industrial activities, that are not properly controlled. (Source: The Bangkok Post).


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BOT to support Baht?

Posted by hasekamp on 2 April 2001 at 9:56 AM
Now that the Thai Baht has crossed the 45 Baht for a US$ rate, the financial sector and the government in Thailand are getting worried.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has instructed the Bank of Thailand to closely monitor the US$/Baht movement in order to help lessen the fluctuation in exchange rates.
Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said after the economic ministers' meeting that the order came after the Thai currency hit a low of 45.07 Baht today against the US$.
"But I still think that the US$/Baht trading still moves in a normal range and I have seen no sign of speculation", Somkid said.
We do not value this remark too high. No government ever announces in public when exactly it is going to support the currence. Otherwise speculation would (indeed) become too easy. An intervention can be expected soon, however, in our opinion.


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New national health scheme launched

Posted by hasekamp on 1 April 2001 at 14:17 PM
Thailand has launched its new ambitious health scheme today. The scheme will provide medical treatment to most Thais for 30 Baht per hospital visit.
Today the scheme starts in six of the 76 Thai provinces, where almost 2 million people will have access to it. Today it starts in the following provinces: Yasothon, Yala, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Sawan, Pathum Thani and Phayao. Bangkok is planned to join the plan in October. The scheme should be available nationwide within a year.
This plan was one of the key election promises of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
An estimated number of 20 million Thais (of the 62 million population) have no health insurance. They can get free treatment in the (crowded) government hospitals, but have to buy their medicines. It is not yet clear if and which non-governmental hospitals will join the program.
Treatment of HIV/AIDS, which afflicts about one million Thais, is not included in the new plan.
The total cost of the new scheme is still unclear: Mr Thaksin has said that it would cost 100 billion Baht per year, but others disagree. Time has to show who is right. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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