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Songkran only in selected areas!

Posted by hasekamp on 27 March 2004 at 14:11 PM
Songkran (water) battle lovers will have to watch out where they go this year in Phuket, because local authorities plan to designate specific areas for the traditional festivities. Phuket police will keep an eye on the rules. The proposed free-for-all zones for the island are Saphan Hin in Phuket City, Patong and Nai Yang Beach. Police said the plan was in line with a recent Cabinet resolution that bans water throwing on main roads as an activity blamed for many road casualties.
A spokesperson of the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said that she agreed with the new rules. However, Bangkok Senator Damrong Puttan expressed concern that the water-throwing zone policy will be hard to implement because it goes against recent public habits. He said the festival used to feature gentle personal exchanges of water, with younger people pouring small amounts into the hands of seniors and asking for blessings.
We do not agree at all with these new rules. Songkran is Songkran, and we never heard of significant higher numbers of accidents due to water throwing. We do hear every year, however, every year of accidents cause by drunk driving. It therefore would be a better idea to forbid spirited water (alcohol) during the Songkran period, instead of tap water! (Source: the Phuket Gazette, The Nation)


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British drug smuggler in Thai jail

Posted by hasekamp on 26 March 2004 at 12:06 PM
A British man from Greater Manchester, who smuggled 3,400 ecstasy tablets into Thailand, has been jailed for 99 years. Michael Connell, 19, escaped the death penalty at a Thai court on Wednesday, by pleading guilty. Connell was arrested at Bangkok's international airport on 10 November 2003 with the pills hidden in facial cream jars. His lawyer said Connell is planning to appeal against the life sentence. Connell's father said he was "absolutely devastated". It seems to be difficult to understand that drugs offences are seriously punished in some countries, including Thailand. The family had hoped for a sentence of 25 years and planned to appeal against the 99-year life term. They say their son was the perfect target for drug dealers who need someone to do their dirty work, given his young age. The convict writes letters home which describe conditions at Khlong Prem Prison in Bangkok, as "bad".
Michael Connell got into a bit of debt, probably just a few hundred pounds, and he was persuaded to smuggle the tablets to pay it off. He therefore was the perfect target for drug dealers who need someone to do their dirty work. Customs officials found the ecstasy tablets in Connell's travel bag after they were detected by an X-ray scan at the airport. The pills had a street value of US $85,000 according to the Thai customs department. (Source: BBC News)


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US still criticize drug killings

Posted by hasekamp on 26 March 2004 at 12:06 PM
We have reported recently that it was not clear if the situation in Thailand concerning human rights was criticized or not in an official US report. The situation becomes clear now:
The United States stands by its assessment of Thailand's human rights problems but concedes it made an error in a report. A US spokesman made it clear that President George W. Bush or Secretary of State Colin Powell had not apologized to the government for the error in the 2003 human rights report launched last month. Thailand objected to the report, which said its human rights record had worsened with extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests common during the government's three-month war on drugs. However, the US spokesman said the report was wrong to say the Thai government had stopped United Nations human rights officials from investigating the matter. That was the only error found in the report. And that is it. The killings are still criticized. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Higher price for water

Posted by hasekamp on 24 March 2004 at 13:02 PM
More than 1.5 million residents of Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan will pay a 0.15 Baht more per cubic meter of water fron June 2004 on, as a result of Irrigation Department charges for water diverted from the Mae Klong river to produce tap water. The department has cited the Agriculture Ministry directive that consumers who use raw water diverted from the Mae Klong have to pay for the utility because the department has spent a large sum for the irrigation system to access water from the river. The increased price, therefore, is the direct cost of water. Not long ago we already reported about the problem of water shortage in Thailand. It seems that the current price rise is a first step to solve this. We expect more price raises for water in the time to come. (Source: The Nation)


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Did the US accuse Thailand wrongly?

Posted by hasekamp on 24 March 2004 at 13:02 PM
The United States has expressed its regret to the Thai government for portraying Thailand in a negative light in its latest human rights report, a Thai government spokesman said yesterday. But a US embassy spokesman said he could not confirm this. The Foreign Ministry yesterday said that a message from US President George W. Bush and US Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed regret for the US report, which had irritated Thai authorities, particularly with its criticism of extra-judicial killings during the government's three-month war on drugs. The ministry said the US admitted to having used old information in assessing the situation of human rights in Thailand, and wanted to correct its misunderstanding over the issue. Asked by journalists to comment on this matter, a US embassy spokesman said he could not confirm that such a message had been sent by his government to the Thai government. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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No hi-tech chicken plans expected

Posted by hasekamp on 24 March 2004 at 13:01 PM
Controversial plans by the Deputy Agriculture Minister to embed microchips into fighting cocks, in order to keep a tab on their whereabouts, were quashed yesterday by the Agriculture Minister, who promised only to launch a feasibility study. The Chicken Conservation and Development Association have ridiculed the scheme as being unworkable. The ministry has not yet reached a conclusion on whether or not it would proceed with the proposals. Given the strong position of fighting cock owners in Thailand, we do not expect any measures against this group. The fighting cocks can now continue to spread diseases at will, without the being disturbed by the government. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Mysterious deaths need investigation

Posted by hasekamp on 22 March 2004 at 19:40 PM
A central agency would be needed to handle the more than 1,000 mysterious deaths per year in Thailand, many of which could be murder victims, a forensic scientist said. The deputy director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science said she was responsible for unidentified bodies in Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya and Nakhon Nayok which accounted for more than 100 unidentified bodies a year. Despite the large number of unidentified bodies, no state agencies have taken up the task of identifying and investigate them seriously. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, police are responsible for autopsies, and local doctors help. However, few are forensic experts. Unidentified bodies are sometimes mishandled by rescue workers, who simply dig the bodies up from the ground and thereby ignore essential details. In many autopsies performed by police and local doctors, the body cannot be identified. The forensic scientist suggested universities to help the Justice Ministry and create a national agency to handle unidentified bodies. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Thailand destroys pirated items

Posted by hasekamp on 21 March 2004 at 18:08 PM
Thailand yesterday destroyed over one million pirated goods, hoping to show its sincerity in tackling intellectual property crime, days before opening free trade talks, in a yearlong piracy crackdown. The items destroyed included music CDs, movie DVDs, soft toys, brand name bags, designer clothing, and watches. The fake items are illegal in Thailand, but are nevertheless widely produced and sold openly on the streets and in shops.
Negotiations on a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Thailand and the United States will start on March 23 in Washington. The negotiations should to be completed in 2005. US trade officials have pressed Thailand for years to respect its demand for intellectual property protection. This issue is expected to be the main issue in the talks. Hence the action odf the Thai government, one might think. (Source: AFP)


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Pedophile arrested

Posted by hasekamp on 21 March 2004 at 18:08 PM
The arrest of an Australian man in Bangkok on pedophilia charges should be a warning to all Australians who are looking for sex with children overseas, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said today. In the recent past also pedophiles from other countries (the UK, the US and the Netherlands) were arrested in Thailand.
The man arrested on Friday is Robert Michael Scoble, 56, who was arrested in a cooperative action of the AFP and Royal Thai Police. This was a good example of the type of joint operations the AFP is now conducting in Asia aimed at Australian pedophiles.
"Exploitation of children by Australians overseas is a high priority for the AFP and this recent arrest is also important to the Thai authorities in their combat of what is a terrible and unacceptable crime against defenseless children," an AFP spokesman said.
Scoble, who operates a travel business in Thailand, was arrested Friday afternoon when Thai police raided his office and found material inviting customers to come to Thailand for sex tourism. Scoble denied the charges, police said. But Thai police said "This man was arrested for trafficking boys within Thailand, organizing gay tours and illegal possession and dissemination of promotional pornographic material,". An American suspected of working with Scoble in the scheme was also arrested and charged but his name is not yet available.
If convicted, the men face a maximum three years in prison and a 20,000 baht fine (Source: AAP; Australia)


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Innovators to meet investors

Posted by hasekamp on 19 March 2004 at 19:10 PM
The Intellectual Property Department plans to hold a major exhibition in which innovators and investors will be able to meet and negotiate business. The director general of the Intellectual Property Department said that the agency will host the so-called IP fair later this year, where innovators who have based their inventions on indigenous knowledge and talents will meet with investors, both domestic and foreign. In the IP fair owners of patents, copyrights and other intellectual property will be introduced and encouraged to do business with their works. We publish this, because we know from our own experience as a patent examiner how difficult it can be for private inventors to make profit from their inventions, without the help of -for instance- the government. The Thai government seems to have taken up this problem. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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White elephants

Posted by hasekamp on 19 March 2004 at 19:06 PM
Although the term 'White Elephant' has entered the English language to mean a useless piece of junk, white or albino elephants have traditionally played an important role in royal ceremonies throughout Thai history. However, today the role of white elephants in the royal life is declining, and the elephants are now being encouraged to lead a more natural lifestyle. According to the veterinarian to the Royal Palace, the Royal Family currently owns 19 white elephants, of whom the most important is a 50 year-old beast displaying all the auspicious characteristics mentioned in ancient lore.
However, the vet concedes that in the past white elephants were not as strong as they could be, as they spent much of their lives simply standing idly in the Royal Stables at the Chitralada Palace, with few opportunities to exercise. Times have now changed, with new stables for the elephants in the northern province of Lampang, and the north-eastern Sakon Nakhon provinces, on a large piece of land. Unfortunately, the elephants were so used to their old surroundings that it took quite some time for them to be able to adjust. At first they refused to feed themselves, and would not even drink water unless their mahouts presented it to them. Now every morning the mahouts take the elephants into the forest to search for food, and in the evening they are allowed to splash about in a large pool for several hours, before being taken off to sleep. The elephants have now become notably stronger, thanks to their new regime.
Modern technology is now also entering into the lives of these elephants in the form of DNA testing, with scientists from Kasetsart University freezing DNA samples from the white elephants for the purposes of future research. This project is being carried out at the request of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Nonetheless, the role of the royal elephants is on the wane, and they no longer take part in many ceremonies. Elephants are now being returned to the jungle at the request of Her Majesty the Queen, who has asked for the old elephants to live out their twilight years in their natural environment. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Water shortage becomes national crisis

Posted by hasekamp on 19 March 2004 at 19:05 PM
Thailand is on the verge of a water-shortage crisis that threatens the agricultural sector if there is no rain soon, a senior irrigation official warned yesterday. The water levels in dams is still normal, but that is only because water has been drawn from water stored over peak years, according to the deputy chief of the Royal Irrigation Department. We are using our capital investment, and if there's no additional water we will have a major problem, the official said.
Levels at the country's two largest reservoirs, Bhumibol and Sirikit reservoirs, were reaching a critical point. There is not enough water now and secondary crops will cause severe damage. But even without the planting of secondary crops, the worse is still to come. The total amount of water stored in reservoirs nationwide had decreased to the point where sharing among industrial sectors would be impossible. In addition, the water-storage cycle is entering a downturn that usually represented a trough of about three or four years.
The Interior Ministry said yesterday a total of 42 provinces were facing water shortage problems, comprising 16 in the North, 13 in the Northeast, four in the Central Region, five in the East and four in the South. The shortages had also affected some 2.65 million people nationwide, the ministry said. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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8th Confirmed bird flu case

Posted by hasekamp on 17 March 2004 at 11:54 AM
The recent death of a 39-year-old woman has Thailand's death toll from confirmed bird-flu cases to eight, the Public Health Ministry said on Monday. The latest bird flu victim, who was not (yet) identified, died on Friday after a visit to her family home in Ayutthaya, the director-general of the Communicable Disease Control Department said.
The victim, a factory worker from Pathum Thani, was thought to have contracted the virus from direct contact with chickens raised in her neighbor's house, where 20 fighting cocks had died of bird flu. Her house in Ayutthaya also raised some 20 fighting cocks, but none have died. We estimate the risk very high that in Ayutthaya very soon bird flu will break out too, with this victim having been in contact with the fighting cocks there.
She became ill on March 1 with fever and diarrhea and was admitted to a local hospital two days later after developing severe respiratory problems. This shows once more that the fighting cocks not only are disgusting "pleasure" objects, but that they also are a deadly risk for public health, for owners and their families as well as for spectators. We wonder if any Thai government will ever have the guts to forbid cock fighting. As we published earlier, the cock fighting business is economically strong and ?apparently- has a powerful lobby. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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King wants an end at corruption

Posted by hasekamp on 17 March 2004 at 11:22 AM
His Majesty the King has expressed concern about the amount of corruption in Thailand and called on the entire nation to help solve the problem within 10 years. The secretary of His Majesty's Chai Pattana Foundation said yesterday that the King was deeply disturbed by the high level of corruption, which would surely ruin the country. His Majesty expressed a wish that the nation help bring an end to corruption within 10 years, which is longer than the government's announced intention to eradicate poverty within six years.
The King also urged all Thais to lead a modest life and be satisfied with what they had, as a way to prevent corruption. "The wealthier you are, the more corrupted you become," the King is reported to have said.
A reaction by the government is not yet available at this moment. Anyway, 10 years is still a long time to have to do with corruption (on a large scale) in Thailand. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Beer in economic competition

Posted by hasekamp on 16 March 2004 at 19:27 PM
Just a few local and international firms currently dominate the Thai beer industry. It looks, however, as if will soon new foreign players will be added.
Thai Asia Pacific Brewery, which makes Heineken locally and dominates the premium segment, is ready to contest the upper-medium slot by launching at least two new brands this year, including Tiger. But also the Philippines-based San Miguel last week announced plans to enter the market with beers to suit every budget. San Miguel is planning to introduce Gold Eagle.
Established local brewers (Singha, Chang) appear largely unconcerned. Chang welcomes the newcomers into the market. Chang has gone from a zero to a 70-per-cent share of the beer market in only nine years and is popular enough to stand up to additional competition.
Beer Thai (1991) produced 1.07 billion liters of Chang last year, up from 800 million liters in 2002.
Boon Rawd (Singha) Brewery's marketing manager said Chang needed to launch its own draught beer to replace Carlsberg, which stopped selling draught in Thailand following a dispute between Denmark's Carlsberg Breweries A/S and its Thai partner. The disappearance of Carlsberg from the market is expected to show a shift by customers to other brands like Heineken and Singha.
We still prefer Singha beer and, when in Thailand, we never drink any beer of which the profits go out of Thailand. (Source: The Nation)


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Internet is booming business

Posted by hasekamp on 16 March 2004 at 11:02 AM
The Internet usage in Thailand is expected to more than double this year as the competition by service providers intensified. The number of Internet users last year totaled 6.5 million or 10.3% of the country?s population. This year, the number is expected to increase to 8.1 million or 12.9% of the population. The Internet usage has averagely increased 1-1.5 times each year. With the rise in the number of users and usage, the Internet service business has a potential for growth.
The Internet service market is expected to expand, given positive factors that contribute to the increase in the number of users and the usage. A greater number of computer sets is equipped with Internet modems, and the Information and Communications Technology-initiated project to offer computer sets at saving prices. Also the government-supported Internet project, under which the Internet rate is one baht per hour, will help.
Currently, the total number of the fixed lines is 6.57 million or around only 10.4% of the population. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Avian flu hits Uttaradit

Posted by hasekamp on 16 March 2004 at 11:01 AM
Chicken-farmers in Uttaradit have been reporting mass deaths of their birds since early this month, leading to fears of a return of bird flu, a local official said yesterday. More than 300 local small farmers say that between 30 and 50 of their chickens had died each day since the beginning of this month. The villagers are afraid of another bird-flu outbreak in Uttaradit as it was one of the provinces hit by the recent epidemic. When the government was about to declare that bird influenza was under control, fresh outbreaks were detected in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and in Uttaradit provinces.
Samples of Uttaradit chicken carcasses have been collected from a number of chicken farms for lab tests, to determine whether there was a new outbreak there. The results of the tests are expected this week. If they are positive, the districts the samples came from will be declared bird-flu epidemic areas, she said.
Meanwhile in Chiang Mai the authorities are also awaiting results of lab tests to determine whether the recent deaths of more than 400 chickens and ducks were linked to bird flu. The symptoms of the dead fowl were very similar bird flu. (Source: The Nation)


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Water shortage in rivers

Posted by hasekamp on 16 March 2004 at 11:00 AM
Water levels in several major Thai rivers are at their lowest level in 25 years, while salinity in the Bang Pakong river has exceeded acceptable standards due to a severe shortage of fresh water upstream, the irrigation chief said. The water level in the Moon river in Ubon Ratchathani was one centimeter below the lowest level recorded. In the Yom river, the water merely covered its bed and was lower than its lowest level. The Lao river in Chiang Rai was below its lowest level.
However, water storage in the country's major dams would be sufficient for consumption throughout this year's dry season if rice farmers agreed to skip planting third crops, an official said. Rice farmers in Chainat, Suphan Buri, Chachoengsao and Ayutthaya have ignored the department's warning and continue to plant their third crops. But the crops would probably be destroyed by the drought. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Chinatown community seeks Royal help

Posted by hasekamp on 16 March 2004 at 10:59 AM
Residents of the "Soi Luenrit" community, facing an eviction order by the Crown Property Bureau, have petitioned His Majesty the King in the hope he will let them stay. The community wants to save its livelihood and traditional style of garment trading in the old Chinatown area. Residents also want to save their historic shops, built in the reign of King Chulalongkorn. These shops are worth a visit and indeed are unique for Bangkok. In Thailand only in Phuket Town more or less comparable houses and shops can be found.
"The King's words will be final for us. We will do whatever he thinks is best. We will move out if he will say so," said one resident. The community has problems with the Crown Property Bureau. A senior CPB official told the community it has to talk to the company that won a 30-year lease contract to develop a shopping complex, and nothing could be reversed. The community's lease contract ended early last year and since the CPB refused to renew it, residents became illegal occupants. Now all depends on the King, the occupants say. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Bird flu good for prawn farmers

Posted by hasekamp on 13 March 2004 at 11:19 AM
With the appearance of avian flu in Thailand, many consumers have made a switch to fish and seafood. Fish, and prawns in particular, have become favorites. Before the bird flu outbreak, prawn prices were depressed because of caps on imports imposed by the US and Europe, resulting in huge surpluses. For prawn farmers at least, the bird flu epidemic cloud has a silver lining. Prawn prices have doubled, from as little as 90 baht a kilo at the beginning of January to 170 or 180 baht today. As a result of the rises in seafood and pork prices, some restaurants have also raised menu prices. As prawn farming is extremely harmful for the environment, we have mixed thoughts by reading this news. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Phuket wants to become world-class marine center

Posted by hasekamp on 13 March 2004 at 11:16 AM
This southern resort island of Phuket is trying to upgrade its image time after time. Now it has requested an additional budget allocation to expand its Ao Chalong tourist (sea) port into a marina, as part of an overall bid to bring the island into the forefront of global marine tourism. The island thinks this will lead to an improved quality of life for its residents. The creation of a yachting marina would be vital to realize this dream. Phuket already has several private marinas, but these are not sufficient to meet current and future tourist demand. Ao Chalong tourist port is therefore to be turned into a marina which met international standards, and which a complete service for yachting enthusiasts. With state-of-the-art information technology facilities, the new marina would be one of the most modern of its kind. The proposed marina expansion will provide facilities for 250 small and large yachts. At present Ao Chalong Port can only accept smaller vessels, while larger yachts have to use private port facilities. (Source: Thai news Agency)


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Thailand installs biometric scanning for US

Posted by hasekamp on 13 March 2004 at 11:16 AM
Thailand has agreed to introduce biometric scanning of international travelers and to share the information online with the United States as part of the war on terrorism. So the next time you arrive at a major Thai airport, your data will be sent straight to the US, if you like it or not. We, anyway, are not happy about the system.
A memorandum of intent (MoI) of this effect was signed yesterday. The Thai Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of Homeland Security witnessed the signing. Under the MoI, the US will pay for the installation of the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (Pisces) at Don Muang, Chiang Mai and Phuket airports. The terrorist interdiction system matches passengers against facial images, fingerprints and biographical information via a high-speed data bank in the US. It is to be extended to all ports of entry, including border checkpoints, within two years.
Thailand is the first country in this region to share online information on travelers with the US. Last year Thailand already agreed to tighter security measures on Thai exports to the US by installing x-ray detectors at Laem Chabang port and a satellite tracking system for all containers bound for Seattle. A new digital Thai passport would be ready for distribution in June. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Bird flu back in Chiang Mai?

Posted by hasekamp on 12 March 2004 at 19:08 PM
In Chiang Mai province yesterday more than 300 chickens and ducks on a farm after died mysteriously. People fear a resurgence of avian flu. Local livestock officers were called to the farm yesterday after the deaths. Their owner said that over the past week his animals had been dying at a rate of one or two per day. Sample corpses were yesterday taken to the Northern Center for Animal Disease Autopsies in Lampang Province for further investigation, while the remaining ducks and chickens on the farm were destroyed. Officials said it would take around a week to determine whether or not the animals had died from avian flu. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Bird flu in Chiang Rai

Posted by hasekamp on 11 March 2004 at 19:17 PM
At the moment the Thai government planned (once more) to declare Thailand free of bird flu, an outbreak in Chiang Rai was confirmed. The government revealed the outbreak yesterday, two weeks after the bird flu was detected in the province (!) He was forced into the confirmation after a Thai-language newspaper published a test result on bird flu-infected chicken from Chiang Rai. An affected poultry farmer said he repeatedly told the Livestock Department about the outbreak, but was ignored. He claimed the department tested a chicken carcass from an infected farm earlier, but the result was negative. The farmer was not convinced and sent the chicken carcass to Kasetsart University's lab, which confirmed the fowl was infected with H5N1 virus strain of bird flu. Livestock officials immediately culled the chickens within a one-kilometer radius of the farm. The operation ended on March 2 and the area is now under 21-day surveillance, until March 23. The Chiang Rai outbreak means a change of plan. Now the government plans to declare bird flu-free zones area by area, rather than for the whole country.
It appears that the Thai government learn (very) slowly. The best way to get rid of the bird flu certainly is not covering it up. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Crown Prince asks Thais to unite

Posted by hasekamp on 11 March 2004 at 19:15 PM
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn yesterday called on the Thai people to put aside their differences and return peace to the South. He was speaking during a trip to Pattani where he extended the concern of Their Majesties the King and Queen to people of the troubled region. The unrest in the South has already claimed about 50 lives since the start of this year. "We have been living together peacefully for a long time. Therefore, when there are problems or troubles or misunderstanding, everyone should turn to one another and talk and make peace with each other so we can continue living together in peace in this country forever," the crown prince said. The Muslim spiritual leader said Muslim people were thankful the King was worried about the southern situation, and for his advice for everyone to work and live together with understanding. He said the Queen once said southerners were lovely people who treasured fairness, so they should deal with each other and difficulties that occurred with understanding and find out together what caused the problems and how to tackle them.
The Muslim spiritual leader said the prime minister suggested every Islamic committee meet its provincial governor once a month and spread the information to Muslim religious leaders and teachers of Islamic schools. He said all Muslim people would do what the crown prince had asked. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Elevated train?

Posted by hasekamp on 9 March 2004 at 19:27 PM
An elevated railway project will be built as a commuter train, to shuttle commuters between Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said that he plans to build the elevated railway system between Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom, which is located only about 50 kilometers from Bangkok, so the people could commute on a daily basis.
Nakhon Pathom could then be developed as a satellite town to the west of the capital, according to the Prime Minister. Mr. Thaksin said that projects for developing another area near Bangkok, Kakhon Pathom, would also be implemented during his time of leadership. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Forest fires destroy Thai nature

Posted by hasekamp on 9 March 2004 at 19:26 PM
Forest fires have ravaged more than 60,000 rai of land in Thailand over the past five months, according to a report by the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department. Since October the country has witnessed 4,204 forest fires, the department said. Satellite photos also revealed a large number of northeastern, northern and central fires on farms, which the department said had the potential to spread to forests. The Natural Resources and Environment Minister yesterday urged the public to call the hotline (telephone number 1362) to report wildfires. He said 4,000 officials from 101 wildlife control stations and units were ready for emergency operations. The Loei province wildfire-control station chief said 120 officials were closely monitoring the situation at Phu Kradung National Park, where fires had already damaged more than 4,000 rai this year. Forest fires took place there 154 times this year. A public-relations campaign has been launched to educate locals about the causes of forest fires and their negative impact. As we know, locals, who want the land for agriculture or living, intentionally ignite most of these fires. In this way they destroy nature, but they esteem their own interest higher than the interest of nature and its creatures, with the exception of mankind.
In Mae Hong Son, the tourism industry has complained about the financial impact of forest fires on the sector after the latest in a series of blazes led to flights to the province being interrupted for 24 hours on Sunday due to poor visibility. Thai Airways International yesterday resumed flights to Mae Hong Son as visibility improved. (Source: The Nation)


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Inspectors in Internet cafes during holiday saeson

Posted by hasekamp on 9 March 2004 at 10:50 AM
Inspectors from the Ministry of Education are to conduct surveys of Internet cafes during the school vacation period in order to prevent inappropriate use of the Internet among young people, a ministry spokeswoman announced. The inspectors will operate both inside and outside normal government working hours, inspecting Internet cafes and gaming parlors. In addition, the Ministry of Education will coordinate efforts with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Inappropriate websites include those that contain pornographic images, those that denigrate the Thai Royal Family, those that pose a risk to national security, and those that sell illegal goods, and gambling sites. At the same time, the Thailand Research Fund is to help create a network of young people and parents to suggest websites that are beneficial for children.
The suggestions by the ministry can also be found at www.plawan.com, about which we published some time ago. It is thought that 30 percent of young Internet users are interested in using the net for entertainment, and just two percent use it for educational purposes. (Thai News Agency)


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Thai economy shows second highest growth

Posted by hasekamp on 9 March 2004 at 10:49 AM
Thailand's economy grew 7.8% in the fourth quarter of 2003 and 6.7% for the whole year 2003. This means that the Thai economy is the second highest, after China, the number one.
The non-agricultural sector grew 8% as a result of the improvement in the construction, financial service, local consumption, and exports. The farm sector expanded 6.3%, and the industrial sector grew 10.7. The financial sector grew 18.2%. With the continued increase in trade, investment, and exports, Thailand's economy is expected to expand 7-8% this year. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Bird flu situation once more "under control"

Posted by hasekamp on 8 March 2004 at 10:27 AM
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday celebrated a week in which Japan announced the likelihood of resuming its imports of Thai chicken products by telling the Thai public that the avian flu situation was now almost fully cleared up. The prime minister noted that there were no longer any areas under red alert for the virus, and no new cases of avian flu were being recorded although a number of areas were still being monitored. The optimism of the PM reminds us of the Iraqi minister of public relations during the recent war, who also constantly said that everything was under control.
Nevertheless, Japan has already authorized the resumption of imports of cooked Thai chicken, following the inspection of Thai chicken production factories by Japanese teams of experts during 26 February-2 March. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Problems for farmers

Posted by hasekamp on 8 March 2004 at 10:26 AM
A severe dry spell that has damaged paddy fields and crops is taking a heavy toll of northern and northeastern farmers. So far, the dry weather has damaged crops on large areas of farmland, especvially in Nakhon Ratchasima province. Residents of 1,340 villages of 23 districts in the province have been trying to deal with a water shortage since late last year, and the problem has intensified this year. The farmers have asked for financial help through the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry.
In Nakhon Sawan province thousands of watermelon plantations have been damaged by the long drought.
In Ubon Ratchathani province some villages have already begun to experience water shortages. There is not enough water for farming and livestock. The tap water system and wells were drying up.
Some provinces, luckily, remain relatively unaffected. Prachuap Khiri Khan in the upper South, said drought prevention measures have saved his province from the current dry weather. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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PM prefers radio

Posted by hasekamp on 4 March 2004 at 19:08 PM
The conflict between the Thai press and the PM, in which the Freedom of Press seems at stake, is entering a new phase. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra now prefers only to use radio to communicate with the public and will talk hardly to the press any more. The press, he says, has been subjective and has shown an unacceptable level of inaccuracy lately. Mr. Thaksin thanked Radio Thailand for broadcasting live his speeches, which he said, helped people know what the government was doing.
"I will cut down interviews with the press. I prefer to have the people hear what I really say directly from my mouth, or my messages could be distorted," he said.
It looks as if the press is not allowed to make a few mistakes (if one should believe they did) and the mistakes in the eyes of Mr. Thaksin seem to be unforgivable, with a press silence as the consequence. We think that this is not the way a democracy should be led. The press serious corrects its possible mistakes always and we do not see how the government can communicate efficiently with the general public, without the support of the writing press. We therefore do hope that Mr. Thaksin will reconsider his attitude very soon.
Mr. Thaksin further said that several newspapers lacked accuracy in their reports. An English-language newspaper (The Bangkok Post?) put its own opinion in a front-page story that said the government's CEO management style was a failure, he said. Another newspaper said that 50,000 people joined the anti-privatization protest at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand even though only 7,000 were there (who counted them?). And yet another newspaper headline said the Constitution Court carried the government in a legal row over the Rajabhat University Bill, he said.
Mr. Thaksin said that the media should keep in mind that the nation must come first. Does he mean by that, that only the official opinions of the government should be mentioned in the press and that unfriendly articles about the government are not allowed? We regret this new phase in the Thai media conflict and we hope the parties will find an agreement of understanding. Mr. Thaksin did many good things for the country, but now it seems as if he does not want anything published that worked out less well than he expected.
And as far as the Thai press concerns, we find The Bangkok Post and The Nation first class newspapers. We would hardly know where to find reliable Thai news if we did not have these two newspapers as our main sources.
Meanwhile political activists and consumer groups in Thailand say that the Thaksin regime has destroyed the atmosphere of democracy. They called on people not to vote for the ruling Thai Rak Thai party any more at local and national-level elections. Speakers criticized the government for its handling of the bird flu outbreak and for its political influence over the media, including the recent removal of Bangkok Post editor Veera Prateepchaikul. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Elephants still in Bangkok streets

Posted by hasekamp on 4 March 2004 at 10:18 AM
Hundreds of elephants are still roaming the streets in Bangkok, despite government efforts to keep them in rural provinces. Even promises of a 10,100 Baht monthly income have failed to attract enough owners to sign up for patrol work in national forests. The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry wants 200 elephants for the work. The scheme has received applications from owners of 88 elephants only. To attract more, the government recently skipped the condition that elephants must be older than 15 years. The Elephant Foundation said it had found 504 elephants ?more than half aged between one and five ? roaming Bangkok and adjacent provinces. In 2003 they found 301 young roaming elephants whose origin remained unclear. This raised concerns that they might have been smuggled out of forests. To get young elephants, their mothers must have been shot dead first. This once more shows that the Thais are not really caring for the beast that once was the pride of the nation! (Source: The Nation)


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Temporary night permission

Posted by hasekamp on 4 March 2004 at 10:17 AM
The Cabinet has decided that "entertainment" venues may stay open until 2 am for the time being, because new regulations enforcing earlier closing times have yet to be approved. But the bars must follow the law rigidly, or they will be closed immediately after all.
The delay in announcing earlier closing times was announced because the Office of the Council of State has yet to examine the Ministry of Interior's proposed regulations to check the legal terminology. The regulations will be handed to the Office as soon as possible. Once this process is complete, the Ministry will publish the new regulations in the Royal Gazette, giving them immediate effect. How long this process will take is not clear, but it can't be more than a few weeks. There will be no exceptions or exemptions. The law is the law. But for now, they can open until 2 am. They must also follow the laws on drugs, under age customers and crimes in venues; otherwise they will be closed immediately. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Freedom of press in danger in Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 2 March 2004 at 19:23 PM
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has today written to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, calling on his government to stop political interference in the media, and reiterating a call to introduce new rules to prevent conflicts of interest over media ownership. The letter follows several recent incidents threatening independent media in Thailand. The Brussels-based IFJ, the global organization of journalists, is extremely concerned over recent events in Thailand, including the removal of the editor of the Bangkok Post, Mr. Veera Prateepchaikul, who is also chairman of the Thai Journalists' Association (the TJA). Mr. Veera was removed from his post on 22 February, an event widely seen as an attempt to silence the Bangkok Post criticisms of Thaksin and his government.
In addition Mr. Jamjit Ravikul was removed from the post of news editor of iTV. The reported is thought to be a measure, following a critical story about the prime minister's approach to the bird flu problem. If you were not aware of this: The prime minister's family holds a 50% stake in iTV.
And thirdly the editor of Siamrath Weekly News, another magazine owned by a politician, resigned last week after government pressure, resulting in the recalling of 30,000 copies of the magazine's critical article about the government's handling of the bird flu crisis.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance, which has protested over recent cases of political interference in media, also reports that the editor of a Thai language business daily was late last year put in an inactive position after the paper published a series of article on the Prime Minister.
"Clearly press freedom is taking a battering at the hands of the political elite in Thailand," said IFJ President Christopher Warren in his letter to the Thai prime minister today. "The IFJ calls on your government to withdraw from interfering in the media - both overtly, through direct ownership, and covertly, through pressure and manipulation of media owners," he wrote. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Degree in music for His Majesty

Posted by hasekamp on 2 March 2004 at 19:22 PM
His Majesty the King will receive an honorary doctorate in music performance and composition from the University of North Texas (UNT). "We are very happy and proud to give the degree to His Majesty. He is the only world leader recognized for leadership and music, which is why we wished to give him this award," the vice-president for development at UNT said. What is most important, perhaps, is how deeply His Majesty cares about music. He once said "Music is a part of me, whether it's jazz or not. Music is in every one of us; it's the great part of our lives. For me music is refined beauty." (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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TAT expects more tourists from Europe

Posted by hasekamp on 2 March 2004 at 19:21 PM
The number of tourist arrivals in Thailand from Europe is expected to exceed over 20,000 this year, thanks to the opening of a new air-route between Bangkok and Milan yesterday. This is the opinion of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). The new Bangkok-Milan route is expected to help Thailand achieve its targeted number of foreign tourist arrivals this year to 12 million. The Bangkok-Milan route and vice versa, which was inaugurated yesterday with the first batch of 250 tourist arrivals in the kingdom, is operated by Blue Panorama Airline. The airline has joined hands with tour companies in offering packaged tours for tourists to tourist destinations around the world through its charter flight services, which supplements those of other airlines.
Italy is one of Thailand's major tourist markets, with a high rate of accommodation per day, and the average arrival growth rate over the past 13 years standing at 6.68% annually, according to TAT. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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New suspected case of bird flu

Posted by hasekamp on 1 March 2004 at 19:12 PM
A 31-year-old man from Nakhon Ratchasima was yesterday listed as the country's 21st suspected bird flu case. The man is in the intensive care unit of the hospital. He is believed to have caught the illness from fighting cocks kept at his house, the provincial health chief said. So here Mr. Thaksin pays the toll for not eliminating the cocks powerful guild of cock fighters! A medical team collected blood samples from his relatives yesterday. Test results will be available in one week.
The Public Health Ministry has confirmed 10 cases of bird flu, of whom seven died and three recovered. Of the 21 suspected cases seven have died, 12 have recovered and two are in hospital. The ministry has also placed 135 other patients under close watch and sent blood and saliva samples to the Medical Sciences Department for testing.
The UN, meanwhile, said more effort was needed to safeguard human health as funding fell short of expectations. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Thaksin orders new War on Drugs

Posted by hasekamp on 1 March 2004 at 11:37 AM
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has ordered another round of drug suppression despite a row with the United States, following the US State Department's criticism of human rights abuse in the government's (first) anti-drug campaign. "I've ordered authorities to devise an anti-drug plan for the upcoming school holidays in Bangkok and neighboring provinces. We'll step up the social order campaign along with the drug crackdown. We won't let our children fall victim to drugs again," he said during his weekly radio program. According to a police spokesman, the city police's operations would start in Tha Rua area which covers Klong Toey community. He said the prime minister wants the fresh campaign to focus on the capital and neighboring provinces while allowing the Interior Ministry to decide if any provinces should be included. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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