Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winning party now in a grave situation

Winning party now in a grave situation

Thai Rath Editorial _ The People Power party has our sympathies. After winning the Dec 23 general election and securing a deal to form a coalition government, the party now faces the prospect of being dissolved. The PPP comprises mostly former members of the Thai Rak Thai party, which was dissolved by the Constitution Tribunal last May for electoral fraud. The tribunal also banned its 111 executive members, including former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from politics for five years.

The new Election Act and the new Constitution have set more conditions under which a party may be dissolved. These conditions include activities considered detrimental to the democratic system and national security as well as breaches of regulations set by the Election Commission.

The EC is empowered to disqualify election candidates for poll fraud, but its decisions must be endorsed by the Council of State. It may also propose the dissolution of a party whose leader or any of its executive committee members is involved in vote buying or abets it. But its recommendations must be approved by the Constitution Court.

Political parties can no longer take it easy like in the past. They must take care that all their candidates play by the rules. It takes just one executive member _ if he is caught buying votes _ to bring the party down.

The EC has not endorsed the election of several PPP candidates. Some may be given a yellow card _ which allows them to contest a by-election _ and some may be red-carded and thus lose their seat. The PPP is also accused of being a nominee for Mr Thaksin, who has been in exile since his government was ousted in a coup on Sept 19, 2006. It remains to be seen whether this accusation will cause the PPP to be dissolved.

Teak tree poisoning verified, park sealed


Teak tree poisoning verified, park sealed


The National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department has sealed-off teak-rich Mae Yom national park in Phrae province to prevent the smuggling of about 300 dead teak trees from the forest. Chalermsak Wanichsombat, the department chief, issued the order yesterday and also transferred the national park chief, Mongkol Sang-arun, to an inactive post for alleged dereliction of duty leading to severe damage to the country's most pristine teak forest.

The move came after villagers from tambon Sa-iab in Song district and a green group on Sunday found hundreds of valuable golden teak trees poisoned and dead.

Some of them had fallen down and been hauled out of the area, they said.

Forestry officials retrieved empty herbicide cans from under the dead trees.

The villagers strongly believe the trees were poisoned to clear the way for a revival of the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten dam project, which would be possible if the pristine forest becomes degraded.

Mr Chalermsak, who inspected the area yesterday, confirmed the villagers' finding and suspected that the mass destruction of high-grade teak trees was done by illegal loggers.

He said 269 teak trees had been poisoned, not more than 700 as earlier reported. The dead trees would be left where they were and would not be taken out for auction as previously speculated, to prevent claims that officials deliberately felled the trees to earn money auctioning off the timber. Under forestry law, seized illegally logged timber belongs to the state and is auctioned off.

The department chief also insisted that the culprits would be brought to justice as soon as possible.

Sa-iab villagers, who are known for their forest conservation role, lauded the department's decision not to sell the timber, saying the move would ''white-wash'' the teak poaching gang's business.

Prasidhiporn Karn-ornsri, an adviser to the Mae Yom forest conservation group, however, doubted the official report that there were only 296 dead trees and not 768 dead golden teak trees as reported by the villagers.

He said the villagers were tipped off about the deforestation in December and finished counting the dead trees earlier this month.

Mr Prasidhiporn said the department had already set up a joint state-local committee to verify the number of dead golden teak trees in the park.

Manoonsak Tantiwiwat, director of Forest Industry Organisation (FIO), also denied there was any plan to auction off the valuable teak logs from the park.

''The agency doesn't want to be accused of helping illegal loggers transform the seized logs to the legal ones,'' he said. The FIO is a state-enterprise in charge of commercial forest plantations and auctioning of confiscated timber.

Rebels kill eight soldiers in bombing, behead one


Rebels kill eight soldiers in bombing, behead one


Insurgents killed eight soldiers and beheaded one of them in an ambush yesterday in what is seen as one of the most brutal acts since violence erupted in the far South four years ago. Maj-Gen Theerachai Nakavanich, the commander of the Narathiwat task force, said the ambushers escaped to a mountainous area near the scene of the attack in tambon Dusongyor in Narathiwat's Chanae district. About 300 police and soldiers were combing the area to look for the killers, he added.

Eight soldiers in a 12-strong team escorting teachers were killed around 9.30am yesterday when a bomb exploded under the Humvee they were riding in on the Reupo-Ka Yae road, police said. Four other soldiers travelling by motorcycle survived the attack.

After the blast at least 20 armed insurgents emerged from their hiding places and shot the soldiers in the head and beheaded one soldier, before fleeing with the soldiers' firearms, including eight M16 assault rifles, an 11mm pistol and an M60 machine gun.

One of the victims was Sub-Lt Anond Boontham, the unit leader.

The severely damaged Humvee was found overturned about 50 metres from the bomb crater. Police said the insurgents detonated the powerful bomb, estimated to contain some 20kg of explosives, under the road as the army unit arrived.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont downplayed the incident, ruling out the notion that the militants want to step up their operations to instil more fear in the far South.

Such attacks could happen at any time and the best way to prevent them was for authorities to be more cautious while on duty, he told reporters.

In Yala, another two members of a teachers' escort unit were injured in a bomb attack in Yaha district.

Pvt Pipobchoke Chuyong, 23, sustained a cut to the leg from shrapnel and Pvt Matohae Chae, 23, was wounded in the back. Doctors said the injuries were not serious.

The 16-member team was patrolling the Patae-Bannang Sata road on foot when the bomb, estimated at 10kg, went off nearby.

Shortly after the attack, two nearby schools were closed.

Earlier, telephone lines in the district were cut, disrupting both land lines and mobile phone services in the area.

In Narathiwat, the hunt continued for six suspected insurgents who escaped from police detention in Muang district on Sunday.

Police searched the suspects' homes and their relatives' homes in Narathiwat and neighbouring Yala province, but found no trace of them.

Checkpoints were put up in all districts of Narathiwat. Photos of the fugitives were put online for immigration officers at border checkpoints as well as Malaysian officials. The six were described as security threats.

A source said police had the details of the boat used in the escape, which picked up the suspects from near Tanyong police station. Fishermen saw the boat but had not been alerted of the prison break, the source said.

The prime minister blamed police for lax security measures which allowed the suspects to escape.

PPP gets three more 'yellows'

PPP gets three more 'yellows'

The Election Commission yesterday issued three more yellow cards to winning candidates of the People Power party (PPP) suspected of vote buying in the Dec 23 general election. The three PPP candidates are Voravat Eua-apinyakul, Niyom Wanthanadisakul and Mrs Phanreuthai Serirak who won in constituency 1 of Phrae province.

Yellow-carded candidates retain the right to stand for re-election.

EC chairman Apichart Sukhagganond said the EC has until Jan 17 to issue red and yellow cards to candidates suspected of poll fraud.

After that the disputes will be settled by a court of law, he said.

Mr Apichart said he believed the EC could endorse more than 95% of the winning candidates in time to open parliament on Jan 21.

The first parliamentary session must be held within 30 days from the general election. The date is Jan 21, he said.

At least 95% of the 480 MPs, or 456, are needed to convene the first session.

Farmers clash over water from Ping river

Farmers clash over water from Ping river

A conflict over water sharing between two groups of farmers from two northern provinces erupted yesterday, with each side wanting more water to feed their farms. Hundreds of farmers from Phichit's Sam Ngam district and from Kamphaeng Phet province engaged in heated arguments over water sharing from the Ping river.

Phichit farmers accused farmers from neighbouring Kamphaeng Phet _ who live near the Thor Thongdaeng irrigation canal which diverts water from the Ping river _ of pumping water from the canal to feed their farms and closing water gates, leaving insufficient water for people in the upper part of the canal.

Deputy Phichit governor Suvit Watcharothayangkul stepped in, urging everyone to observe rules set by a district irrigation office in Kamphaeng Phet.

A committee will be set up to supervise the opening and closing of water gates.

Eyes on Barack there, on Samak here

Eyes on Barack there, on Samak here

Both are the hottest politicians right now. One is an American, the other is Thai. They are from different generations. Barack and Samak.

Barack Obama has already surprised American political watchers by beating closest rival Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus on Jan 3. That boosted his chances of representing the Democrats in the presidential election later this year. Although the wife of the former United States president was able to redeem herself by winning the primary five days later in New Hampshire, it was quite a close call.

The race for the top job in the White House still has a very long way to go, with 10 races to contest, including another primary in Michigan today and South Carolina on Jan 26. The Michigan primary is uncertain. But Mr Obama now is riding on confidence that he will repeat the Iowa success in South Carolina.

Mr Obama's surging popularity is due to more than the colour of his skin. If he can go all the way, the US could have its first non-white figure leading the country. Mrs Clinton also wants to set the record as the first female president of the most powerful country in the world.

The support piling on for Mr Obama is not purely due to his mixed race (Kenyan father and white American mother). Voters in the US are hungry for change in the leadership of the US administration. ''Change'' is already a key word in his nationwide campaign for backing from Democrat members.

The verdict in Iowa, where Mrs Clinton was supposed to come first, underlines the desire for something new in American leadership. People there long for a young, energetic president who dares to think out of the box, who is eager to come up with new ideas. For his supporters, the 47-year-old freshman senator from Illinois fits in well with the desire for a new generation to guide the US into a new era. Though the Clinton camp has warned of possible dangers to the country with someone who has no experience in administering the US at the national and international levels, many Democrat voters simply shrugged off that worry. They are weary of old-style politics and ready for a gamble.

A big gamble is taking place here in Thailand, too, as Samak Sundaravej looks poised to fulfil his political ambition to be prime minister. With his People Power party coming first in the Dec 23 elections, he has the right to be No. 1 at Government House. On the night when he learned of the results, the 73-year-old politician declared himself ready for the premiership. Although many PPP winning candidates have been ordered to run again in by-elections by the Election Commission, the repeated win in a by-election contest in Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday shows that the party with the most members loyal to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra remains strong, and its members will come back no matter how many yellow cards the poll agency gives the PPP. The chance for the Democrats to form a government is now remote, unless a ''political accident'' incapacitates the PPP.

What Mr Samak has to prove is he can work without Mr Thaksin pulling the strings behind him, as many are casting doubt on this. Another challenge is whether he is of sufficient calibre to propel Thailand back into the position of a key player in Southeast Asia.

Thailand cannot stay alone like in the old days. Its future depends on success within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong said shortly before ending his tenure recently, countries in the region need a new breed of leader with the vision to look beyond national interests to carry the momentum for the grouping to prosperity.

It is undeniable that political problems in Thailand hurt international confidence in the country. It also has an impact on the region. The 10-member Asean once fretted about CLMV (diplomatic jargon referring to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) dragging down its progress after embracing the four countries into the club. As Vietnam's economy and its role in the region are on the rise, that acronym should be changed to CLMT.

Only time will tell whether Sen Barack will be given a chance to run his country for a change, and whether Mr Samak can move our country forward.

Saritdet Marukatat is News Editor, Bangkok Post.

DSI arrests executive of copper supply firm


DSI arrests executive of copper supply firm


The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) yesterday arrested an executive of a copper supply firm in connection with a 1.4 billion baht tax evasion case. Tawatchai Suan-sida, director of the DSI's tax section, said Pairoj Chushinawatra, executive director of SCS Industry Co, was arrested by DSI investigators at the Royal Lakeside Golf Club in Samut Prakan.

Mr Pairoj faced a court warrant for allegedly evading tax worth more than 200 million baht.

Mr Tawatchai also linked Mr Pairoj to a case involving the Sai Fai Thai Industry Company, which was previously found to have avoided 1.4 billion baht in tax payments.

He said SCS Industry Co sold copper to the Sai Fai Thai Industry Company and the DSI found that the two firms collaborated in tax evasion.

On Dec 23 last year, the DSI arrested Mr Pairat, Mr Paisit and Mrs Orawan Chushinawatra _ all relatives of Mr Pairoj and executive directors of the Sai Fai Thai Industry Company.

Mr Tawatchai said at least 18 people were linked to the alleged scam.

He said the business transactions of the two firms involved more than 24 billion baht and the suspects allegedly avoided taxes worth a total of 1.4 billion baht.

OAG's lottery panel likely to indict Thaksin

OAG's lottery panel likely to indict Thaksin

Decision contradicts findings of the ASC


The Office of the Attorney-General's two-and-three digit lottery panel has decided to indict a number of people who clearly stood to benefit from the digit lottery scheme, said an OAG source. Among those likely to be charged are ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, former finance minister Suchart Jaovisidha, his deputy Varathep Ratanakorn and the former chief of the Government Lottery Office (GLO), Pol Maj-Gen Surasit Sangkhapong.

The decision, to be forwarded for consideration by Attorney-General Chaikasem Nitisiri, contradicts the findings of the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), which earlier suggested that criminal charges be filed against 47 former cabinet members and executives of the GLO.

The source said the OAG's panel, however, found that other cabinet ministers did not have vested interests in the lottery scheme.

The panel will also recommend that the OAG and the ASC set up a committee to review the case, said the source.

Deputy Attorney-General Wayawut Lortrakul yesterday refused to discuss the panel's decision, saying the ASC will be informed of the decision by Jan 18.

Udom Fuangfung, who led the ASC panel looking into the controversial lottery scheme, yesterday played down the OAG's different viewpoint.

''If opinions are still divided, we are authorised to appoint our own lawyer and indict the cases by ourselves,'' he said.

An OAG source said the OAG and the ASC may have to set up a joint committee to consider the issue if both agencies have different views.

Meanwhile, the ASC yesterday pressed charges against four state officials and a company executive for their involvement in alleged corruption in the Baan Ua-arthorn low-cost housing scheme initiated by the Thaksin government.

ASC secretary Kaewsan Atipho said there was sufficient evidence to prove that National Housing Authority (NHA) deputy governor Pittaya Charoenwan and three state officials abused their power by colluding with a contractor to forge a land price evaluation.

The forgery took place during the bidding process for two Baan Ua-arthorn projects _ the 181 million baht Kabin Buri project in Prachin Buri province, and the 209 million baht Aranyaprathet project in Sa Kaeo.

The NHA had bought land from the contractor at inflated prices _ 7.8 million baht more for the first project, and 10.7 million baht more for the second, he said.

The process usually requires two evaluations from two separate consultants, said Mr Kaewsan.

The contractor, identified as Alliance Property, managed to submit only one assessment each for the two projects and NHA officials helped them by counterfeiting another paper.

A private firm which it was claimed submitted the other assessment told the ASC team that it never issued any such verification, said Mr Kaewsan.

The three officials found to be in the wrong were identified as Jetwat Wichit, Preecha Khunrak and Winai Piromdee. They and the NHA deputy governor will face malfeasance charges and criminal charges for forgery.

Tawat Tuwirat of Alliance Property Co also faces charges of collusion, he added.

The ASC last week filed charges against 14 other people, including singer-turned-politician Arisaman Pongruengrong, who has been found to have been involved in the alleged corruption in some projects of the Baan Ua-arthorn scheme.

The panel has already charged Watana Muangsook, the former social development and human security minister, with corruption for allegedly taking an 80 million baht kickback from a contractor for another project under the scheme.

Complaint against PPP deputy leader is withdrawn


Complaint against PPP deputy leader is withdrawn


Chiang Rai _ The Chart Thai candidate who lodged a complaint with the Election Commission accusing first deputy leader of the People Power party Yongyuth Tiyapairat of election fraud has withdrawn his complaint, which could have led to the PPP's dissolution. The withdrawal of the complaint triggered speculation that it could weaken the Election Commission's vote-buying charge against Mr Yongyuth.

In the complaint lodged by Wijit Yordsuwan, a Chart Thai candidate in Chiang Rai's constituency 3, Mr Yongyuth was accused of arranging for a group of tambon and village heads from Chiang Rai's Mae Chan district to be flown to Bangkok for a meeting. At the meeting, Mr Yongyuth allegedly solicited their help in campaigning for PPP candidates in Chiang Rai.

The case could have resulted in a red card for Mr Yongyuth and the dissolution of the PPP, since Mr Yongyuth is a key executive of the party.

Mr Wijit withdrew the complaint late yesterday morning.

However, Chiang Rai election director Amornpong Wichitakul insisted that the EC could continue its investigation against Mr Yongyuth because it earlier resolved to receive the case.

National EC chairman Apichart Sukhagganond said he had not yet received the request to withdraw the complaint.

However, he said, a meeting of the five members of the EC would make a decision on how to deal with the withdrawal.

A source said Mr Wijit withdrew the complaint following the visit of Chart Thai secretary-general Praphat Phothasuthon to Chiang Rai early this month.

Before he withdrew his complaint, Mr Yongyuth's former close aide Chaiwat Changkhaokham had refused to act as a key witness in the case any longer.

Mr Chaiwat, a kamnan [tambon head] in Mae Chan district, had allegedly turned his back on Mr Yongyuth and testified in support of Mr Wijit's allegation.

Several days ago, Mr Chaiwat sought police protection, claiming his life was in danger.

The PPP yesterday asked the national EC to transfer Chiang Rai police chief Pol Maj-Gen Songtham Alpart and the deputy chief of the Chiang Rai Internal Security Operations Command, Col Thawat Panya, out of the province, claiming they were not politically neutral.

Two PPP proportional representation candidates for zone 7, Pol Lt-Col Kan Thiankaew and Chaowarin Latthasaksiri, lodged the petition signed by party leader Samak Sundaravej.

Pol Lt-Col Kan said the party had also asked the EC to revoke the appointment of 708 Special Branch police officers to investigate poll fraud allegations, claiming that none of the officers were politically neutral.

In addition, the PPP will today seek urgent provisional protection from the Central Administrative Court for its elected candidates who have not been certified by the EC, and ask that investigation reports prepared by the 708 Special Branch officers be nullified, said Pol Lt-Col Kan.

CNS denies asking cabinet to double salaries


CNS denies asking cabinet to double salaries


The outgoing Council for National Security (CNS) yesterday denied asking the cabinet to double the salaries of its members as had been alleged by the pro-Thaksin website www.hi-thaksin.net. Gen Somjate Boonthanom, chief of the CNS secretariat office, said the only unusual request the CNS had made was it called for an annual remuneration package for military officers who were called up from other military units to assist the secretariat's work.

Gen Somjate, also director-general of the Office of the Defence Budget, said rumours were persistently being spread about the CNS pressuring the cabinet to double their salaries so that its reputation could be sullied.

Similar rumours also were spread last year, he said.

''At mid-year and year-end, it is normal for military agencies to prepare their remuneration proposals for approval.

''The CNS' secretariat goes by the book when it presents its proposals to the cabinet for approval. There is nothing special about it,'' Gen Somjate said.

He said the remuneration would be largely offered to staff at the secretariat office _ most of whom are rank and file military officers.

This will be its final request as the CNS will bow out when the elected government is sworn in.

Gen Somjate said since the CNS' staff had also worked on public holidays, they should be rewarded.

CNS spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd said how can you believe that the generals who are members of the CNS would put in such a request.

The CNS members are fully aware their tenure is about to end and such a request would only go against the Defence Ministry's regulations, so why would they do it?

On April 3 last year, the cabinet awarded a 15% pay rise to the 423 staff and members of the Council for National Security, as they had requested.

The cabinet approved the increase in recognition of their dedication and hard work.

This brought their total salary hike since the Sept 19 coup to 30%.

Of the 423 officers, 60 are attached to the secretariat office and the rest to the special task force.

Baathists once again are welcome


Baathists once again are welcome

Baathists may regain their jobs and pensions, but Iraqi legislation on the Baath party has sparked controversy in parliament


Baghdad _ Although an overwhelming majority of Iraq's lawmakers ratified the new law allowing functionaries of the Baath party of former dictator Saddam Hussein to return to public life, a number of parliamentary blocs are still divided on the legislation. The Accountability and Justice Law was ratified on Saturday and is regarded as a major step taken towards the country's reconciliation.

It reverses the de-Baathification law which placed restrictions on former members of Saddam's ruling party.

One month after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, when the Baath party was declared illegal, Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer enacted the dismissal of all Baathists from official jobs and political participation, rendering thousands of them unemployed.

Now that the ramifications of this decision have been understood, the door has been opened to former Baathists to re-engage in Iraq's public life in an attempt to put an end to the continuous tension between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites.

''It's an important step towards reconciliation, it's an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people,'' said US President George W Bush in praising the legislation.

Teachers, university professors and army personnel who used to be members in the Baath party are now expected to be again part of Iraq's labour force, returning to their careers and receiving their retirement pensions.

A large majority of the 140 parliamentary members present on Saturday passed the new law. The Iraqi parliament has 275 members.

The Shi'ite al-Sadr bloc topped the list of parliamentary blocs which opposed the legislation. It fears that the return of the Baathists _ whom they regarded as being their oppressors during Saddam's reign _ could lead to them regaining control over the country. Also opposing the legislation were the blocs of the National Dialogue Council, with 22 seats previously headed by former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi, and the National Dialogue Front, which has 11 seats.

Other blocs in opposition included the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF), which has 24 seats, and the three members of the Independent Arab Block.

Some parliamentary members condemned an article in the law which excludes members of the Baath party who are still charged with crimes.

Moustafa al-Heity, a member of the National Dialogue Front, said the law includes many vague statements that could be easily misunderstood.

He described the law as ''unrealistic and inapplicable,'' saying it contains a paragraph that denies the return of the Baath party ''whether in ideology, policy or practice, to authority or public activities under any name''.

Abdul Karim al-Samarey of the Iraqi National List called for a vote on the original version of the law without any amendments excluding Baath members charged with crimes. ''The Baathists are considered a part of the Iraqi people. Penalties and punishments imposed on them should not be continued,'' said Mr al-Samarey. The legislation was repeatedly postponed and fiercely opposed by various blocs when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki first announced it in June 2007. DPA

Army chief happy to meet Potjaman

Army chief happy to meet Potjaman

Anupong backs Pravit as defence minister


Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda yesterday denied press reports he has met Khunying Potjaman Shinawatra, the wife of ousted prime minister Thaksin, but said he was open to doing so if it helped improve the country's situation. Gen Anupong said he would welcome any invitation from Khunying Potjaman for a meeting.

''If she came to see me to help improve the situation, it would be a good sign,'' he said.

Nevertheless, Gen Anupong said he had no idea what issues Khunying Potjaman would eventually raise with him.

''For ongoing corruption cases, they must go through the judicial system. But if she wants to discuss the restoration of a peaceful environment or reconciliation that would lead to peace and order in society, and a better environment for the economy and the stock exchange, then I think I should listen to her,'' the army chief said.

Gen Anupong's remarks were supported by Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas.

Gen Boonrawd said talks could lead to reconciliation, which is in line with His Majesty the King's suggestion.

Asked if he agreed with Khunying Potjaman's plan to meet Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda to resolve any conflict between them, Gen Boonrawd said he supported the idea if it could help improve the political situation in the country.

At the same time, Gen Anupong yesterday vowed he would not meddle with the selection of the defence minister by the new cabinet.

However, he did not hide his admiration for former army chief Pravit Wongsuwan, who is said to be preferred by the Council for National Security (CNS) to become the new defence minister.

Gen Pravit is well trusted by the military and qualified for the job, he said.

In response to a rumour that the CNS preferred Gen Pravit to be made the new minister rather than People Power party (PPP) deputy leader Gen Ruengroj Mahasaranont, a former supreme commander, Gen Anupong said the matter rests with the new government.

A CNS source said the CNS's suggestion of its preference for Gen Pravit, now a member of the National Legislative Assembly, came after Gen Ruengroj, who is closely connected to Mr Thaksin, was tipped to be made defence minister in a PPP-led coalition.

Gen Pravit was a Pre-cadet School classmate of Deputy Prime Minister Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, former CNS chairman. Other classmates are air force chief ACM Chalit Phukphasuk, Supreme Commander Gen Boonsrang Niampradit and navy chief Adm Sathiraphan Keyanont.

Gen Pravit was Gen Anupong's immediate supervisor when he served in the 2nd Infantry Division in Sa Kaeo province.

100 days of mourning sought


100 days of mourning sought

The cabinet will today consider extending the official mourning period for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana from 15 to 100 days. The proposal received the backing of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont during a luncheon he hosted yesterday for high-ranking ministerial officials.

Gen Surayud agreed the proposal should be tabled by the Prime Minister's Office today calling for government and state enterprise officials to wear black for 100 days, ending on April 10.

Government agencies, Thai embassies and consulates, and places of education across the country will fly their flags at half-mast during the mourning period.

The Princess' body will be kept at the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace for at least 100 days, and funeral chanting rites will be held daily during this period.

Initially, His Majesty the King declared a 100-day mourning period for members of the Royal Family and palace officials.

The Princess, the King's elder sister, passed away on Jan 2 after a long battle with abdominal cancer. She was 84.

City Hall will host special activities on Teacher's Day tomorrow to honour the Princess, said deputy governor Bhuddhipongse Punnakanta.

Fine Arts Department chief Kriengkrai Sampatchalit said the Office of Traditional Arts is checking repair and replacement works needed for royal ornaments to be used in the cremation.

''We will start with the major repair of the royal funeral chariots used to carry the royal urn and the Princess' body, and other vehicles. We will build the pyre on the west side of Sanam Luang, which will be off-limits to the public. We are asking the Bangkok governor [Apirak Kosayodhin] to also use the southern part of the park,'' he said.

Young woman dies in fall from cliff top


Young woman dies in fall from cliff top


Authorities survey the spot on Phu Chee Fah mountain where Panchita Sakornjan, a 27-year-old employee at Samitivej Srinakarin hospital, fell to her death yesterday. Her body was found 200 metres down the cliff. Officials said a warning sign was in the area but she might not have seen it.

Chiang Rai _ A woman tourist was killed in a fall from a cliff on Phu Chee Fah mountain in Thoeng district yesterday. She fell to her death while taking photos of the scenic mountain bordering Laos.

Panchita Sakornjan, 27, from Rayong, an employee of Samitivej hospital, fell through a hole in a patch of grass near the edge of the mountain, plummeting into a ravine 200 metres below.

She had apparently failed to notice a warning sign.

Some of her friends bravely climbed down the cliff in an attempt to rescue her, but could not reach her and had to turn back about halfway because it was too foggy.

Police were later called in to help in the search. With the help of officers in Laos they finally found Panchita's body on the Lao side.

''It was an accident. The woman failed to see the warning board,'' said Thoeng district police chief Pol Col Tosapume Jaroenporn.

Panchita is the second person to die at the popular tourist site. In 2004, a Japanese tourist plunged to his death there.

The 1,200-metre-high mountain is one of the most popular tourist spots in this northern province.

Meanwhile, Meteorology Department chief Suparuek Tansrirattanawong yesterday urged motorists to exercise caution as most regions of the country would continue to be shrouded in thick fog, particular in the morning, until the middle of the month.

The misty weather results from a high pressure system which brings in a cold front from China causing strong sea winds in the Gulf of Thailand, which pushes moisture inland.

Drivers have complained of poor visibility, saying it was down to only 100 metres, while pilots have found it difficult to land at Suvarnabhumi airport in recent days.

Troops get first aid training


Troops get first aid training


A soldier shows a pack of haemostatic granules, a coagulant used for external treatment of traumatic wounds. Troops stationed in the deep South are receiving training in modern emergency first aid.

Some of the troops stationed in the far South are being taught the emergency first aid procedures used by US forces fighting in Iraq.

Craig Kastin, of US-based company CMC Rescue Equipment, has been demonstrating emergency medical techniques to special warfare troops.

He has also been introducing the company's new medical kits and other products used by US soldiers in Iraq. They are all for sale.

He said the new products and training in emergency first aid could save lives.

One product he introduced is haemostatic granules, a coagulant used for external treatment of traumatic wounds.

''We are teaching them how to deal better with an emergency,'' he said.

It was a popular product used for stopping moderate-to-severe bleeding, he said. It cost 1,500 baht a pack.

''I bought one pack,'' said Sgt Noppadol Jaitham, of the Lop Buri-based Special Warfare Command.

''Although expensive, it is worth buying because it could save lives if we are attacked and have bleeding wounds.''

Special warfare troops are assigned to community relations work in remote villages. Sgt Noppadol said the soldiers were prime targets for insurgents.

Sgt Somkiart Sonna said some of the army's medical supplies were out of date and the rescue equipment was old. They sometimes had to improvise straps to control bleeding, he said. The unit could not afford the best emergency kits.

Lt-Col Nat Kanchanahoti, chief of the 1st Special Warfare unit's civil affairs section, said some of the medical equipment dated back to the Vietnam War.

Time for Thaksin to join his wife


Time for Thaksin to join his wife

Matichon editorial _ In a surprise move, Khunying Potjaman Shinawatra returned to Thailand last Tuesday to start her defence against corruption charges levelled against her and her husband, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The couple face a court trial over alleged abuse of power related to Khunying Potjaman's purchase of land in Bangkok's Ratchadapisek area in 2003, when Mr Thaksin was still prime minister.

Immediately after she landed at Suvarnabhumi airport on a flight from Hong Kong, Khunying Potjaman was taken to the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, where she was granted bail. She later went to the Department of Special Investigation, where she was also granted bail in another case involving alleged share concealment.

Arrest warrants were issued against the former prime minister and his wife last August, after they failed to show up to answer the charges.

The two cases raised a lot of controversy because they were brought against Mr Thaksin and Khunying Potjaman after a group of military officers removed him from power in a coup on Sept 19, 2006. Mr Thaksin has since lived in exile.

Khunying Potjaman's arrival has revived the judicial process which was suspended when she left the country, with the Supreme Court setting the first hearing on the Ratchadapisek land case for Jan 23.

The Supreme Court is an independent body. Its legitimacy rests on the trust and confidence of the public. However, any ruling of its Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions is final. Defendants cannot appeal.

We hope Mr Thaksin will soon return to prove his innocence through the judicial process. He can counter all the charges in court. Any ruling will be based on the evidence presented by the prosecutor and the defendant.

Six groups to blame for King Power contract

Six groups to blame for King Power contract

AoT investigation uncovers irregularities


Airports of Thailand's (AoT) investigation committee has found six groups of people were involved in irregularities in the awarding of a contract to King Power Suvarnabhumi Co to run commercial space at Suvarnabhumi airport.

The investigation team has confirmed that King Power Suvarnabhumi, a firm under King Power International Group, acquired the commercial space contract from AoT without undergoing scrutiny required under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act.

The law requires in-depth scrutiny of every state project worth one billion baht or more.

AoT board spokesman Chirmsak Pinthong said AoT will inform the company in writing that the contract is invalid.

AoT will then proceed to petition the Office of the Attorney-General to evict the company from the commercial space it occupies at Suvarnabhumi.

King Power Suvarnabhumi operates commercial areas at the new airport, while King Power Duty Free Co runs the duty-free shops.

The investigation team, headed by former national police chief Pol Gen Pratin Santiprabhob, has named in its report six groups of people allegedly involved in the contract irregularities.

The first group was the previous AoT board, chaired by then transport permanent secretary Srisook Chandrangsu, which awarded the contract to the company, allegedly breaching the joint venture law, said the report.

The second was the board's sub-committee to run and develop general affairs in the airport.

The investigation team accused the sub-committee of acting beyond its authority by allowing the company to build the City Garden building outside the airport's passenger terminal, which is not stated in the terms of reference.

The third was the AoT's revenue-handling committee, which is accused of negligence after allowing the company to make use of more space than indicated in the contract. It did not try to charge the company for using the extra area.

The fourth group included the committee which received the bids for the contract and the committee which selected the bidders.

The investigation panel said the company's bidding document had been tampered in a way that put AoT at a disadvantage. Also, nobody in the two committees could say where the missing important documents were being kept, the investigation team said.

The fifth group was King Power Suvarnabhumi and its management.

The AoT investigation committee alleged King Power Suvarnabhumi had concealed information to keep the official investment of the commercial space development below one billion baht, to avoid scrutiny under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act.

The sixth group was the consortium of consultant companies appointed by the old AoT board. The investigation team alleged these advisers tried to estimate the investment value of the project, which was not allowed under the contract. They also tried to put the investment cost below one billion baht, the investigation team said in its report.

The investigators also noted that then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as chairman of a committee overseeing the development of Suvarnabhumi, and the transport minister and transport permanent secretary at that time might have been aware of contract irregularities.

Should cars eat our food?


Should cars eat our food?

The lure of biofuels is difficult to resist. In a country with a surplus of food, it is easy to get carried away with the idea of mixing some agricultural crops with gasoline or diesel in order to save on the oil import bill.

Brazil has proved that mixing oil with sugar cane, corn and soybeans can run most of a country's transportation. In Thailand, some leading industries and increasing numbers of farmers are jumping on the biofuel bandwagon.

But this programme is already affecting supplies and raising prices of food. It is not sinful to fuel autos with the help of renewable crops, as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro claims. But it is unacceptable to make food scarcer and more expensive because of a headlong race by businessmen to make higher profits with such a programme.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, who studies poverty issues on a macro level, got a lot of publicity by criticising the International Monetary Fund's actions in Thailand in 1997, and lately by criticising Thailand's threats to break international drug patents. He wrote recently that poor people worldwide face a triple threat where global warming raises food prices because crops are turned into fuel.

Mr Sachs, perhaps more than any recent critics, has pointed out the knock-on effects. World wheat prices have recently hit record levels, at least in part because wheat acreage has dropped as North American farmers have switched to corn to make ethanol.

Similar events are already occurring in Thailand. News that palm oil and tapioca (cassava) will be in demand for programmes promoting biofuel has actually changed agricultural patterns _ only a little so far, but measurably. Palm plantations have now been seeded in regions where the crop had seldom been seen. They have replaced some banana farms in the upper South, fruit orchards in the East, and even some rice fields in the Central region. In the past, cassava has driven farmers from rags to riches and back to rags. Now the crop is gaining new life on reports it will be used for biofuel, and fields of tapioca again are sprouting, particularly east of Bangkok.

Even this small amount of crop replacement has caused strong reaction in the markets. Last week, the Internal Trade Department held an emergency meeting with traders to discuss the hoarding and shortage of palm oil, a popular cooking product. This joint government-public meeting agreed to urgently call on the Commerce Ministry to allow the immediate import of 60,000 tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia. That meant a rise in palm oil prices of 15 baht a litre, an unpopular move which nevertheless had to be rubber-stamped by a ministry with no alternatives.

At the same time, the price of many snacks suddenly shot up in markets and supermarkets throughout Thailand. The reason for that was explained as a shortage of cassava. That is the polite way of saying farmers and more importantly warehouses and middlemen are hoarding tapioca in order to get higher prices when biofuel firms and food makers try to outbid each other for the raw material.

The changes in crops and the market pressures for food are extremely controversial under any circumstances. Without public input and government guidance, they are unacceptable. The current, military-appointed government has done little to ensure that the interests of all parties are considered.

Big business, of course, wants to get involved in an industry that is hugely profitable because of taxpayer-funded subsidies for ethanol and bio-diesel. Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand last week confirmed the national fuel fund would spend about 500 million baht this month alone supporting bio-diesel. A Khon Kaen sugar merchant said he expected his company's profits to rise 10% this year thanks to the ethanol programme.

A first priority of the next elected government must be to tackle the hugely expensive biofuel projects. They already are costing billions of baht. They also are changing patterns of food production, agricultural research and prices in the marketplace.

It may be that rising oil prices and a thirst for transport will convince Thais to put food in the fuel tanks of automobiles and trucks. But that should happen only after careful scrutiny of the effects of such a decision.

Rival politicians find common ground at a Thai temple in the birthplace of Buddhism


Rival politicians find common ground at a Thai temple in the birthplace of Buddhism


Buddhist monks lead a prayer at the Thai Buddha Gaya temple in the Indian town of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh state.

Despite their political differences, Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr, a key figure in the Council for National Security (CNS), and some veteran politicians from the disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, do have something in common _ they have all made a pilgrimage to a Thai temple in India.

They went to the Thai Buddha Gaya temple in the Indian town of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh state.

However, they went at different times and with their visits spread between October and March, when the weather there is good.

Phra Rat Ratanarangsee, who oversees three Thai temples in Kushinagar, said veteran politicians, military officers and senior government officials have made the pilgrimage.

Some went to make merit and meditate, and travelled to four holy places for Buddhists.

Others, including former election commissioner Wasana Permlarp, actually sought ordination at the temple.

These pilgrims, including Newin Chidchob, now with the People Power party, and Sanoh Thienthong of the Pracharaj party, wore white outfits during their stay in India.

Mr Sanoh was accompanied by his fortune teller, who advised him to make merit to avert bad luck. Others who made the trip include former navy chief Adm Prasert Boonsong, former defence permanent secretary Gen Ood Buangbon and former deputy interior minister Pracha Maleenont, who arrived with actors from TV Channel 3, which his family owns.

Apart from making merit, Mr Pracha also had more toilets built at the temple.

Temple staff said Gen Saprang was one of the volunteers who cleaned the temple's toilets.

Those joining the monkhood at Thai Buddha Gaya temple included Sutham Saengprathum, a former Thai Rak Thai executive who is banned from politics for five years. It was the second time he had entered the temple.

He was a monk there for 23 days on an earlier visit.

Mr Sutham said it was important to be ordained into the monkhood in India, because that was where Buddhism originated.

''I feel that I was closer to Lord Buddha and that inspired me to focus deeply on studying Buddhism. The environment helped me better follow Buddhist precepts,'' he said.

Phra Rat Ratanarangsee views the trend by key figures in Thailand to visit the temple as a good sign.

''It's time for them to review their deeds and find ways to right their past wrongs. They started afresh,'' he said.

''Some politicians had experienced frustration. They came here and found real happiness, refrained from competition, shared and had freedom in their minds,'' he said.

Phra Thep Phothiwithes, the abbot of Thai Buddha Gaya temple, said most of the pilgrims felt better after their trip.

''A pilgrimage allows them to be reborn. Washing themselves in the Ganges river or with water from the Ganges river is like washing away sins,'' said the 70-year-old abbot,.

He was among the first batch of Thai monks to settle in India.

Poll panel issues three more yellow cards


Poll panel issues three more yellow cards


The Election Commission issued three more yellow cards yesterday to winning candidates of the Puea Pandin and People Power parties suspected of vote buying in the Dec 23 general election.

Election commissioner Sumeth Upanisakorn said a by-election would be organised in Nakhon Ratchasima's constituency 6, where the victories of Meechai Jitpipat and Polpi Suwanchawee, both of Puea Pandin, have been annulled.

A by-election would also be held in Chaiyaphum, where Surawit Konsomboon, a PPP candidate in constituency 2, was also yellow-carded.

The dates have not been fixed.

The poll agency had so far endorsed 424 winning candidates, election commissioner Praphan Naikowit said.

He also said the commission would not interfere in the poll fraud case involving PPP deputy leader Yongyuth Tiyapairat, which is now being handled by a special sub-panel led by former Constitution Court judge Suwit Thirapong.

''The panel will be given a free hand to handle the case,'' he said.

However, Mr Yongyuth missed his appointment with the inquiry panel yesterday.

He was due to watch the video used as evidence to back up allegations he was involved in poll fraud.

He said the panel had agreed to let him view it tomorrow. He did not say whether he would show up.

Mr Yongyuth said he would today hand a letter to the Election Commission asking for the transfer of Pol Maj-Gen Songtham Alapach, the Chiang Rai provincial police chief, and some military officers, out of Chiang Rai province to ensure a fair investigation of the case against him.

Amornpong Wichitakul, director of the Chiang Rai election office, said a close watch was being kept on the movements of influential people since a kamnan in tambon Chanchwa of Mae Chan district levelled allegations of vote buying against Mr Yongyuth.

Chaiwat Changkaokham asked for police protection because he feared for his life. He was one of the 10 local leaders questioned by the poll agency about Mr Yongyuth's alleged poll fraud.

The EC has so far issued 18 yellow cards and seven red cards.

On Jan 17, a poll re-run will be held in Buri Ram's constituency 1 and Chaiyaphum constituency 2; on Jan 20 in Prachin Buri's constituency 1, Lampang's constituencies 1, 2 and 3, Udon Thani's constituency 6, Phetchabun's constituency 1, Chai Nat's constituency 1 and Nakhon Ratchasima's constituency 6.

Political stability remains a dream


Political stability remains a dream


Despite the fact that it is close to success in forming a coalition government with five smaller parties, the People Power party (PPP) appears to be stuck in the hot seat.

The trouble stems from an allegation that its deputy leader, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, engaged in vote buying in violation of election law.

The case is so serious many party members are pondering a move to a new party, either the Prachakorn Thai party of Sumit Sundaravej or Chalerm Yubamrung's New Alternative party, should the PPP be ordered dissolved in the same manner as was its predecessor, Thai Rak Thai.

Yongyuth was accused of arranging for a group of kamnan and village headmen to be flown into Bangkok from Chiang Rai for a meeting so he could solicit their help in campaigning for PPP candidates in Chiang Rai, his home province. It was alleged that envelopes containing cash were handed to these local officials from a former aide to Yongyuth.

The key incriminating evidence - said to be quite solid to build a case against the former natural resources and environment minister - is a VCD purportedly showing him in the act of wrongdoing.

The VCD was obtained by Pol Maj-Gen Chaiya Siriamphankul, deputy commissioner of Special Branch police, who investigated the case.

Yongyuth has denied all charges against him and claimed he was set up by political opponents determined to ruin the PPP. He demanded to see the VCD in question, but when the evidence was made available to him on Friday, he simply didn't show up. No explanation was given.

Because Yongyuth is an executive member of the PPP, the case will have far-reaching implications for the party if the accused is found guilty and handed a red card by the EC. The party would be held accountable for the misdeed and could be disbanded by the Constitution Court. All party executives could be barred from politics for five years in the same way 111 executives from Thai Rak Thai were dealt with.

Despite the threat of the possible dissolution of the party, the PPP remains as defiant as ever. It has vowed to press on with its attempt to form a government with its allies, among them the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Pracharaj and Matchimathipataya parties, and possibly the Chart Thai and Puea Pandin parties which have yet to decide whether to join a PPP-led coalition.

Until the Constitution Court rules on the fate of the PPP, which would come several months after the EC has handed down a verdict in Yongyuth's case, the PPP should be able to get a government in place to run the country at least for a while.

In a worst-case scenario that the PPP is dissolved by the Constitution Court, the party has devised a contingency plan in which its MPs, provided they stick with the party, flock en masse to a new party, perhaps the Prachakorn Thai or New Alternative parties.

But whether the new party could form a government all over again depends whether its allies go along with the plan or switch to the Democrats.

With Yongyuth's case still pending before the EC, it is not surprising the Democrats have not given up hope, no matter how faint it is, of forming an alternative coalition government.

The party last week asked its member, Chaiwat Sinsuwong, to withdraw a complaint to the Supreme Court seeking the nullification of all advance votes.

With the legal hurdles pending against the PPP, it is hard to imagine how a government with it at the helm could function effectively while the prospect of being disbanded hovers over it.

The Democrats would not be much better off even if they were given a chance to form a government.

Whether the government is headed by the PPP or the Democrats, political stability remains elusive. Those hoping for a stable government should resign themselves to the sad fact that this will not be realised for several months at least.

That is the price this country and its people must pay for the restoration of democracy and for the kind of politicians they elected to parliament.

Veera Prateepchaikul is Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Co Ltd.

Owner set to sell Siam Park

Owner set to sell Siam Park

Engineers move in to check cause of accident


The owner of Siam Park has announced he wants to sell the 28-year-old amusement park after the latest accident, in which a broken water slide injured 28 children.

On Saturday, a joint in the Super Spiral broke loose, tossing young children off the slide.

Some children plunged about five metres into the edge of the slide's pool.

The injured children were taken to Noparat Ratchathani Hospital.

Twenty-four of the 28 children were discharged yesterday. The other four remained under observation for head and back injuries.

Saturday's accident follows a fatality at the park in October, when the Indiana Log ride malfunctioned, causing the death of one woman and injuring several children.

Chaiwat Luangamornlert, the managing director of Amornphant Nakorn-Suan Siam Co Ltd, which owns Siam Park, said yesterday he was disheartened and wants to sell the business.

''Two accidents since late last year, and both were unforgivable,'' he said.

''In the first accident, one person died and this time a lot were injured. The accidents point to poor management.

''I've been running the park for 26 years, hoping it provides good fun and happiness to people.

''But now it's not a happy park any more. My park is causing problems for many people.

''Since I'm no longer capable of looking after my business, I'd better sell it,'' Mr Chaiwat said.

He is 70 years old.

He conceded that much of the equipment in the park was old, and the people in charge of maintenance might not be paying enough attention to its upkeep.

''I'm old too, and feel tired now. I'm not strong enough to walk around the park and watch over the staff the way I did before,'' he said.

The amusement park covers 300 rai of land. Mr Chaiwat estimated it to be worth about five billion baht.

He said a few investors from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam had earlier shown interest in buying the park.

After his decision to sell the business was reported yesterday, he had approaches from three local businessmen expressing interest in buying it.

One already operates a fun park, while the other two are yet to clearly identify themselves.

If the park could not be sold, Mr Chaiwat said he would set up the Luangamornlert Foundation to help disadvantaged people, especially children and the aged.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) said it would close down part of the park for 15 days for safety inspections. The rest, a theme park, would be open to the public as usual.

''We cannot close the entire park because the accident happened at only one single spot. We can only suspend the licence of the water slide. We cannot suspend the licences of 20 other pieces of equipment in the park,'' said Teeraboon Manupeerapan, director of Khan Na Yao district after meeting executives of Siam Park yesterday.

Today engineers for the BMA and the park will check the safety of the water slide and other equipment, starting with the oldest, installed about 15 years ago.

Forensic experts will be asked to find out why the water slide fell apart.

Last year the park made a safety assessment of all theme park equipment after the fatal accident at the Indiana Log ride _ one of the theme park's most popular attractions.

Mr Teeraboon said the safety assessment prepared by the park's engineers showed all machines were safe, including the water slide.

''The previous report confirmed this water slide was safe. So now we don't know how this accident happened,'' said Mr Teeraboon.

''We will start scrutinising each piece of equipment, starting with the oldest one and moving up to the newest,'' he said.

Accidents are not unusual at Siam Park _ now the oldest theme park in Thailand. Opened in 1980, the park was dubbed the ''lung of family people in Bangkok''. It includes a water park with another water slide as high as a seven-storey building.

Manhunt for six escaped rebel suspects


Manhunt for six escaped rebel suspects

Malaysia asked to help watch the border


A huge manhunt is underway for six suspected insurgents, including an alleged senior member of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), who escaped from police detention in Narathiwat yesterday.

More than 300 policemen were deployed from all 13 districts of the province to search for the escapees, focussing first on relatives' houses. Soldiers and administrative officials also joined the search.

The escapees _ Nasree Muelee, Arong Dueramae, Atri Jeloh, Ahamad Sareesamoh, Nisa-uti Nimae and Noroding Binbueraheng _ were in custody at Narathiwat police headquarters behind the Tanyong police station in Muang district.

They are all from Narathiwat.

Mr Nasree is believed to be the head of a special attack unit of the BRN and is wanted on 10 security-related charges.

Pol Maj-Gen Pongsak Nakkawijit, the chief of Narathiwat police, said the six may have fled on a boat moored near the Tanyong police station.

A police source said the six men had been detained in a canteen converted into an interrogation building in the compound of the police station.

Photos of the escapees were distributed in communities where they may have gone into hiding.

Narathiwat governor Karan Supakijvilekka said he has instructed district chiefs to contact relatives of the escapees and obtain information which may be helpful in tracking them down.

The escapees may not have gone far and could be in neighbouring provinces.

The governor said he would also get in touch with Malaysian authorities in case the escapees crossed the border.

A police bomb disposal squad de-activated a seven-kilogramme bomb under a tree on the side of a road in Narathiwat's Rangae district yesterday.

The bomb was planted close to a spot where teachers are regularly picked up by a team of soldiers and escorted home.

The bomb was spotted by a rubber plantation owner, who alerted authorities. Two teenagers were believed to have left it there on Saturday.

In Yala's Krong Pinang district, a Muslim man was shot dead by two gunmen yesterday. Police said Isma-ee Purong, 47, was killed as he was watching television at a grocery in tambon Purong. Witnesses said two men went into the shop and shot him in the head before fleeing on a motorcycle.

Man dies in bomb blast outside banned politician's house


Man dies in bomb blast outside banned politician's house


Nakhon Ratchasima _ A man was killed when a bomb exploded in front of a house rented by banned politician Suporn Atthawong, a former Thai Rak Thai MP, in Soeng Saeng district last night.

The house is next door to the district police station. The bomb exploded about 7pm. The dead man, whose body was severely mutilated, had not been identified last night.

Pol Lt-Col Pirawat Methacharatpong of Soeng Saeng police station said the house was rented by Mr Suporn.

He refused to give details of the type of bomb or to speculate on the motive for the attack.

It was not clear if Mr Suporn was in the house at the time of the explosion. He was not available for comment.

On July 2, Mr Suporn was shot and wounded by men in a pick-up while driving hime from a party in Khon Buri district. He linked the attack to a conflict with a local politician.

The politician he referred to ran in the Dec 23 poll under the Puea Pandin banner.

He was said to have won the election, but has yet to be endorsed by the Election Commission.

Three candidates of the People Power party (PPP) won all the seats in Nakhon Ratchasima's constituency 3 in the election re-run yesterday.

Election commissioner Praphan Naikowit said the by-election went smoothly. There were no boycotts of the poll, and no poll fraud was reported.

The by-election was called after three winning PPP candidates _ Prasert Chantraruangthong, Linda Cherdchai and Boonlert Krutkhuntod _ were yellow-carded after they were caught with cash and a list of eligible voters.

The unofficial results of yesterday's election re-run saw Mr Boonlert coming first with 96,627 votes, followed by Mr Prasert, 88,094 votes and Ms Linda, 84,371 votes. Wisit Pitthayaporn of the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana party came fourth with 65,539 votes.

The Election Commission yesterday issued a yellow card to Surawit Konsomboon, a winning PPP candidate in Chaiyaphum's constituency 2.

Also yellow-carded were Meechai Jitpipat and Polpi Suwanchawee, both winning candidates for Puea Pandin, in Nakhon Ratchasima's constituency 6.

Karen pay their respects to late Princess in Chiang Mai


Karen pay their respects to late Princess in Chiang Mai

Leaders of Karen ethnic groups in Chiang Mai sign condolence books for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana at the Chiang Mai Provincial Hall yesterday.

Chiang Mai _ Three hundred Karen yesterday held a ceremony to pay homage to Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana and paid tribute to her efforts in improving public health for fellow highlanders.

The Karen, in their traditional uniforms normally worn for important events, jointly prayed for the Princess in the Karen dialect in front of her portrait at the provincial hall.

They said they felt grateful to the Princess for despatching mobile medical units to offer check-ups and treatment to the ethnic minorities who had trouble accessing medical help.

The Princess took over from the late Princess Mother in running the Por Or Sor Wor medical units. Hundreds of doctors joined the units as volunteers and travelled countrywide to help the poor and the underprivileged requiring medical attention.

''We Karen people don't have money to travel to Bangkok to pay our last respects to the Princess,'' said Kusuma Amrungpanom.

The ceremony was attended by members of two major Karen ethnic groups from four districts_ Omkoi, Mae Chaem, Mae Wang and Chom Thong.

In Bangkok, city officials have asked the public to clean up the mess they create from the free meals they receive before leaving Sanam Luang each day. The garbage is piling up in the area and creating an eyesore and pollution.

The amount of garbage at Sanam Luang exceeds two tonnes a day, according to Phra Khanong district officials.

The meals are provided by charitable organisations to a large number of people who turn up at the Grand Palace to pay their respects to the late Princess.

''We would like to ask for your cooperation to keep the area clean,'' said deputy Bangkok governor Bannasopit Mekvichai.

Hundreds of golden teak trees poisoned

Hundreds of golden teak trees poisoned

Villagers believe forest being cleared for dam


Forestry officials examine illegally felled trees that were cut down after being poisoned with herbicide in Mae Yom national park in Phrae yesterday.

Phrae _ Hundreds of valuable golden teak trees have died in Mae Yom national park, and villagers believe they were poisoned to clear the way for a revival of the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten dam project.

Forestry officials have retrieved empty cans of herbicide from under the dead trees.

Villagers say at least 700 trees have been poisoned by people wanting to destroy the forest so that the long-shelved dam project could finally go ahead.

A large number of teak tree stumps were also found in the area. Villagers said the trees had been cut and loggers were preparing to haul the logs away.

The dead trees were discovered in tambon Sa Eiab, Song district, during a recent survey headed by a village leader.

Seng Khwanyuen, village head of Sak Thong village, said he had told local officials several times about the tree poisoning, but no one believed him.

He said his team found empty herbicide cans scattered on the forest floor.

He and other villagers believe poachers poisoned the trees to get the logs while at the same time ruining the fertile forest to justify dusting off the dam project.

Mr Seng said that in the areas his team surveyed more than 700 teak trees had died from herbicide poisoning.

There could be more dead trees in other areas of the park.

National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department chief Chalermsak Wanichsombat inspected the affected area in the national park on Saturday and said his initial survey confirmed the trees were poisoned.

Dead trees were easier to transport as they float better in water than freshly-cut timber.

He had instructed the head of the department's Phrae office, Prachakpong Thaiklang, to send him a report on the matter immediately.

Permsak Makarabhirom, former director of the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre Asia and the Pacific, said some of the trees may not have died, but merely shed their leaves.

The richness of the forest was no longer the momentum behind opposition to the planned dam.

The weight of the argument now centred on the dam's inability to prevent flooding in the lower northern provinces, Mr Permsak said.

Support for the dam project, originally put forward in 1989, resurfaces every time severe floods and drought hit the central and northern provinces.

Some believe the dam could help manage and prevent natural disasters in the area.

But the proposal faces stiff resistance from villagers and environmentalists, who fear the dam would flood a large portion of the country's richest and largest remaining golden teak forest in the national park.

Critics question value of sufficiency economy


Critics question value of sufficiency economy

Some argue it is a convenient tool which allows the elite to do nothing for the poor


Apart from ''reconciliation'', another buzzword that has prevailed in Thai society over the past few years is ''sufficiency''.

But how applicable is the philosophy, coined by His Majesty the King, to the current state of the country's economy and lifestyle choices?

While the 2006 coup-makers and coup-installed government of Surayud Chulanont readily adopted the royal philosophy as a policy guideline, some academics argued that overt emphasis on the ideology was more a political manoeuvre by the powers-that-be and the elite within Thai society than a viable economic model.

At a panel discussion on the sufficiency theory, Peter Bell, from State University of New York, said the principle was not a coherent and viable economic theory and the United Nations Development Programme's recommendation that other countries adopt an approach similar to Thailand's sufficiency concept was not relevant.

''The concept is simply a strong critique of Thai capitalist development. It comes with a sense of anti-globalisation, in light of the financial crisis in 1997,'' Mr Bell said.

He added that the village-sufficiency model, if there is such an example currently in existence anywhere in Thailand, is not a system that can logically be expanded into a larger or national economic management system.

''After all, every single aspect of the Thai rural and urban economy is fully integrated with the global economy. Talking about a sufficiency economy is an utopia and could not provide any alternative economic debate at all,'' he said.

Viewed in this light, Mr Bell concluded the sufficiency economy theory was a class response to the crisis of the past decade and arose out of the contradictions in the development path under the regime of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Although the sufficiency concept strikes a chord with a large portion of the Thai people, as it is essentially an outgrowth of Buddhist living codes, Andrew Walker, from Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, said the royal-sponsored vision misrepresented the nature of the rural livelihoods in contemporary Thailand.

Mr Walker cited his research in Chiang Mai's Ban Thiem village as an example. It showed that demographic changes in the rural North combined with limited land productivity meant natural resources could no longer support the rural population.

At Ban Thiem, he said, perhaps only 10% of their economy was from rice, 10% from farm-based labour, 5-10% from money sent from outside, including from abroad, 30% from other cash crops and some 40% from government spending/employment, which was most vivid during the Thaksin administrations.

''The King's sufficiency economy recommendation that external linkages could only be developed once there was a foundation in local sufficiency was not consistent with the economically diversified livelihood strategies pursued by rural Thai people,'' said the Australian academic.

Failing to address the people's real economic needs, the sufficiency economy has become an ideological tool used by the elite to take the pressure off themselves to address any serious redistribution of income or resources, Mr Walker said.

Indeed, Soren Ivarsson, from University of Copenhagen's history department, went so far as to allege that the term ''sufficiency economy'' was used in the post-coup government to whitewash the regime and reaffirm that it was a guardian of ethics and the monarchy.

However, Charles Keyes, University of Washington's professor emeritus of anthropology and international studies, said northeastern Thailand is where the King's sufficiency theory and capitalist development can be seen to co-exist.

The villagers have unequivocally embraced capitalist development but have also been tempered by values rooted in the Buddhist culture, he said.

''Thai rural society is one that combines capitalist [rational choice] and sufficiency-based [moral choice] stances,'' said Mr Keyes, in his keynote speech to the conference which ended yesterday.

While the philosophy requires certain conditions to thrive, such as a strong community welfare system or high morality, Thai society seems to have gone beyond these factors, said Voravidh Charoenlert, of Chiang Mai University's faculty of economics.

For example, he said, the principle was not applicable in the labour sector, because workers had no control over their means of subsistence, including land use and bargaining power.

Jonathan Rigg, from Durham University in Britain, agreed.

He cited his research with Chulalongkorn University's Social Research Institute, which found that provinces in central Thailand, such as Ayutthya, offered strong evidence of erosion of community, communal ideals and the social covenant which seems to constitute the basic infrastructure for the sufficiency economy.

Many of the elemental, constitutive elements of ''the village'' had either disappeared or been radically reworked in many Thai rural areas, Mr Rigg said.

Complaint against school that chained up childrens


Complaint against school that chained up childrens

Buri Ram _ A complaint has been filed against the deputy director of a school in Muang district who chained two 12-year-old students to a tree as punishment for truancy.

The draconian punishment was meted out after the boys skipped a maths class late last month at a mathayom school in the district. The victimisation enraged their parents who yesterday lodged a complaint against the school's deputy director who ordered them to be chained up.

''He (the deputy director) placed two bowls of water in front of them and, in a bid to humiliate them, called other students to see what he termed the 'monsters','' said one of the boy's mothers.

The boys were chained up for about three hours before being released.

The woman asked education officials to take legal action against the deputy director for the act, which she said went against teacher ethics.

She said her son has become extremely stressed since the punishment and requires continual comforting and reassurance.

''I felt very bad,'' said the boy, whose name was withheld. ''My classmates still call me a monster.''

The deputy director, whose name was not given, admitted he chained up the two students, but argued he did not mean to physically harm or torture them.

''This was to create a psychological impact to keep the boys from skipping class again,'' he said, reasoning the boys were too wild to be dealt with using more conventional methods.

He also claimed their parents had signed an agreement with him, allowing the school to punish their sons if they broke school rules again.

However, chief of the 1st education zone for Buri Ram Surasak Srisawangrat said he had ordered the school director to investigate the case.

The school director was not present when the punishment was carried out, he said.

However, the director telephoned his deputy, instructing him to free the boys when he found out what had happened, Mr Surasak said.

Chuan to sue over speech by PPP candidate


Chuan to sue over speech by PPP candidate

Chuan Leekpai, the chief adviser to the Democrat party, has sued Surachai Danwattananusorn, a People Power party (PPP) candidate in Nakhon Si Thammarat, for defamation. Mr Surachai said he received a notice from Crime Suppression Police yesterday.

Mr Chuan has authorised Tawatchai Jaranakarun to lodge a complaint against Mr Surachai on his behalf.

The police have summoned Mr Surachai for questioning on Jan 23.

He said the complaint was made about a speech he made when he was a leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship of Thailand during a series of rallies against the Council for National Security at Sanam Luang.

He said he made several speeches during the rally and had no idea which one upset the veteran politician, adding he would check tape recordings of his speeches.

He said that any criticism of Mr Chuan was not ill-intentioned, saying that as a politician and public figure, Mr Chuan should be open to criticism.

''I didn't mean to defame him. It was all made in good will,'' he said.

Case reveals how Thai police think


Case reveals how Thai police think

E-mail: postbag@bangkokpost.co.th / Snail mail: 136 Na Ranong Road, Klong Toey, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

My own experiences with the police indicate they are an uneducated and dishonest collection of self-serving opportunists.

My latest interaction within the last few days was following a minor road accident. The usual extortion of monies was enacted, but I rebuffed it. There was a raft of lies put forward by police officers at the scene. In addition, a display of ignorance of the law was on show as was an attempt to have my wife visit an ATM to hand over money.

Therefore, when I read the account of "Cop killers found gunned down" (Bangkok Post, Jan 11) I have to sympathise with the victims' families who were denied justice.

It is blaringly obvious that the police murdered these men. The comments made by Pol Lt-Gen Rachata Yensuang are risible. If you wish to learn the truth from anyone with "Pol Gen" in their title simply reverse what they say.

Am I correct to assume "found gunned down" translates as "cold bloodedly murdered by arresting officers"? Hence the police found the men and executed them, leaving their families too terrified to even lodge a complaint.

As the police do this to Thai nationals when sober, we can begin to understand the senseless slayings of foreign tourists by drunken armed officers.



Law of the jungle

I understand the strong feelings policemen have against cop killers, but executing the killers shows complete disregard for religion which holds all life is sacred, education which holds we should act rationally and reflectively, and the judicial system which holds that everyone deserves a fair trial.

To read that 3,000 people rallied in support of the policemen who allegedly carried out these executions (Bangkok Post, Jan 12), shows me that in spite of the best efforts of our civilising institutions, when strong feelings are involved, the law of the jungle is still the only law that is respected by many people.



Time to pick up a book

The article "Screenwriters' winter of discontent" (Opinion & Analysis, Jan 12) itself reads like a soap opera as soapy screen and scriptwriters protest.

This is a perfect opportunity for Americans to improve their literacy skills, go to bookstores, join public libraries and put books in front of children instead of television sets.

This is a golden opportunity to resurrect reading as a prime-time time filler. Imagine, if only George W. Bush could learn to say something other than "duh", "yeah", "hum" and "uhhh".




Vote-buying fantasy

As a confirmed cynic I find myself highly amused by the current antics of the Election Commission.

Everybody knows that, if they disqualified every candidate that indulged in vote buying, they would wind up with not more than 10 or 15 elected MPs.

It's almost as funny as generals who take an oath of loyalty one day, and then turn around the next day and overthrow the elected government.


Udon Thani


Smelling a rat

I've noticed a number of letters in Postbag from foreigners advocating the immediate formation of a PPP-led government, despite strong evidence of election fraud and before due process has run its course.

This is strange. Generally, foreigners are quite vocal about issues of fraud and corruption.

Additionally, the comments come from people I've never seen writing to Postbag before and the letters seem to have something disingenuous or phony about them. They are similar in construction to unsolicited email.

I wonder if they're being sent by an individual or group with a vested interest.

Might I suggest Bangkok Post staff take a closer look?



Hospitals need to care more for patients

I share the sentiments of M.S. (Postbag, Jan l3) about the medical establishment, especially here in Pattaya.

Last year I was bit by a stray dog and the hospital here in Pattaya refused to give me a rabies shot because I didn't have enough money with me at the time. This despite the fact the doctor said I needed the shot "immediately".

I looked the hospital staff in the eye and said: "You monsters don't care if I die, as long as you get paid in advance."

Another hospital in Pattaya gives you antibiotics for viruses and painkillers when you're not in pain. They add them to your bill without telling you.

It doesn't surprise me that in America one of the major causes of death is the medicine you get from your doctor.

I don't know which scares me more: the prospect of getting a serious illness or the thought of putting my life in the hands of a doctor who couldn't care less about me as a human being.


Chon Buri


Bush enchanted by sound of music

I smiled when I read Ron Martin's letter on Bush's visit to Israel (Postbag, Jan 12). I had also seen on TV the young Israeli girls sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as Bush daydreamed.

I found it particularly interesting as the lyrics to this fine song were written by Yip Yarburg who was an activist for human dignity and a critic of US capitalism.

Yip Yarburg wrote "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", wrote music for the first all-black movie musical Cabin in the Sky and the first fully integrated Broadway play Finian's Rainbow.

Bush's Republican forebearers tried to stop publication of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" as anti-capitalist and attacked his song "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" from Cabin in the Sky because in their twisted thinking they saw it as praising Joseph Stalin.

During the Republican dominated McCarthy era, Yip was blacklisted and could not work in the film, TV, or music businesses.

In 2005, a US commemorative stamp bearing Yip's portrait was issued.

So, to see Bush standing and listening to a song by Yip Yarburg to give courage to people, to overcome their differences and create a better world gave cause to smile. Yip may have smiled, too.


Chon Buri


Seeking peace amid din of construction

We live in a soi opposite Rajadamri BTS station. The area has numerous high-rise developments in progress. The noise is like a war zone. It continues well into the night, after 10pm on many occasions.

Despite numerous complaints to the BMA, the noise continues unabated. This seriously affects the quality of life of all nearby residents.

Homework, relaxed dinners, early nights and rest after returning home from work are all affected. We have had enough of the noise.

For the profits of wealthy builders and contractors using unreasonable hours, we all suffer.

What do your readers suggest?


Abhisit denies trying to subvert PPP attempts to form a govt

Abhisit denies trying to subvert PPP attempts to form a govt


Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday his party has not made any move to compete with the rival People Power party (PPP) in forming a new coalition government.

''Let me assure you that the Democrat party has not struck a deal to form a government as we have not held talks with other political parties over cabinet posts,'' he said.

The Democrats yesterday held a seminar attended by the party's newly-elected MPs endorsed by the Election Commission (EC) at a Bangkok hotel. Mr Abhisit said the party would let the PPP, which won the most seats in the Dec 23 general election, form a government. The Democrats were willing to work as the opposition party, he said.

But if the PPP failed to gain support from other parties to form a coalition, the Democrats would step in and put together a government, he said.

He said the outcome of last month's proportional representation vote was strange as the two major parties _ the PPP and the Democrats _ won about 12 million votes each.

What sets them apart is that one party seeks the return of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, while the other wants an honest government, he said.

The Democrats would remain in touch with the Chart Thai party, its former ally in opposition to the Thai Rak Thai government, which has announced plans to join a PPP-led coalition.

Mr Abhisit said that although the first meeting of the Lower House must be held within 30 days of the election and at least 95% of the elected MPs must attend the first session, it did not mean that the EC had to rush into endorsing poll winners suspected of cheating.

TAT aims to spread message of recovery


TAT aims to spread message of recovery


Most of the hotels and other tourism businesses have now been rebuilt, except in Khao Lak, which should recover next year.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) expects the tourism business in the three key destinations in southern Thailand _ Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi _ to be back to its pre-tsunami state within the next year.

Most of the hotels and other tourism businesses destroyed by the December 2004 wave have now been rebuilt, except in Khao Lak, which should recover completely by next year.

Now the TAT wants to spread the word that the South has made a complete recovery. It plans promotional roadshows in Italy, Spain and Japan this year.

According to Suwalai Pinpradab, director of the agency's Southern Region 4, the rainy season in Thailand coincides with the holiday season in southern Europe. She said visitors from countries like Italy and Spain could help fill hotel rooms during Thailand's low season.

''We are not worried about the number of tourists in Phuket because it is well-known among foreign tourists worldwide,'' she said. ''But we are concerned that uncontrolled property development in Phuket may cause problems because of the insufficient infrastructure.''

The TAT expects that more promotion will help hotel operators to raise low-season occupancy rates by at least 10 percentage points, from 60% in Phuket and Krabi and only 40% in Phangnga.

Ms Suwalai said that Phuket would have around 40,500 hotel rooms by the end of this year, up from 36,000 last year. Most of the new supply consists of upper-scale hotels and villas and boutique properties.

This year, the TAT estimates that the number of tourist arrivals to Phuket will increase to 5.5 million, compared with almost five million last year.

She expects this year to be a good one for Krabi, particularly in the high season. In 2007, the occupancy rate stayed at 60% to 70% on average, compared with around 50% in the year before.

Also helping Krabi will be the fact that more visitors might look beyond busy Phuket. In addition, the Krabi international airport has been upgraded to international status.

This year, the TAT anticipates that hotel rooms in Krabi will increase to 17,000, up from 15,000 last year. Ms Suwalai expects that Krabi will draw 2.4 million visitors, compared with around 2.2 million in 2007.

Phangnga, meanwhile, has some limitations to growth because some of its key tourist locations, including the Surin and Similan Islands, are part of a marine national park and must be closed for part of the year.

However, in the high season from November to April, the occupancy rate in Phangnga is usually around 80%. The province had 4,500 hotel rooms at the end of last year and is expected to add 500 this year.

Sammakorn plans project in Bang Kapi

Sammakorn plans project in Bang Kapi

Company's first project in 30 years


Kittipol : Targeting the new generation

The medium-scale developer Sammakorn Plc (Samco) remains focused on low-rise developments and is planning a single-housing project worth around 500 million baht in the Bang Kapi area, says managing director Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya.

The company will open pre-sales to more than 3,000 existing customers by the end of the first quarter for Sammakorn Bang Kapi, the company's first project in more than 30 years.

''The new project will have new housing designs in modern styles as we target the new generation, especially the second generation of our customers in the first projects,'' he said. ''After mailing them, we have a waiting list with almost 100 names.''

The new estate will be located on a 30-rai site, about four kilometres from Sammakorn Bang Kapi, which the company last year spent 240 million baht to acquire. It plans to develop 100 units priced at four to five million baht each, and to launch in mid-2008.

Mr Kittipol said the company planned to spend 18 to 24 months to close sales and complete the development.

Set up in 1970, Samco has 700 rai of land for new developments. The largest piece is a 300-rai site on Nimit Mai Road, but it has no plan for the plot yet.

''Five years after we acquired the land in Nimit Mai, there was a change in zoning. However, we still cannot develop this site as the city plan required the development of housing projects with minium space of 100 square wah for each unit,'' he said.

Currently, Samco has units available at six housing projects. They include 40% of the 284-unit Sammakorn Min Buri 2; 30% each in the 602-unit Sammakorn Nimit Mai and 391-unit Rangsit Klong 2; 45% of the 236-unit Nakhon In; 55% of Ratchapreuk and 140 out of 200 rai in Rangsit Klong 7.

Meanwhile, projects Sammakorn Bang Kapi and Sammakorn Min Buri 1 with 3,356 and 410 units, respectively, are almost sold out. In 2008, it plans to spend 150-200 million baht to buy new land plots for development starting in 2009.

Samco expects to have 700 million baht in pre-sales this year and realise more than 600 million baht in revenue. Last year, it generated pre-sales of 600 million baht as targeted and expected to realise 550 million to 600 million baht, up by 10% from 2006.

Mr Kittipol said the company also aimed to expand with one more branch of Pure Place, a community mall with a petrol station, in 2009 as the trend for service stations now is to have more retail space.

''There will be more community malls as these are a lifestyle destination. People today face traffic jams when they go to a shopping centre so it's more convenient and faster to do the shopping in a community mall,'' he said.

The company is considering its two project sites _ Bang Kapi and Ratchapreuk _ as new branches due their locations. Each would have an investment of between 100 million and 200 million baht.

The first Pure Place branch is located on a six-rai site in front of Sammakorn Rangsit Klong 2. With a sellable area of 4,000 square metres, it has an occupancy rate of 70-75% and is expected to reach 80-85% by the end of the year with 40 million baht in rental revenue, he said.

Pure Place is a joint venture with Rayong Purifier set up last year with an investment of 100 million baht.

SAMCO shares closed on Friday at 2.20 baht, down two satang.