Encroachment crackdown ‘targets poor’

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    Now the norm? Troops last month were sent to destroy a village of farmers who had occupied a former oil palm plantation in Krabi province. The farmers took over the land aver the company's concession expired, but the junta sided with the business. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

    More than 500 poor villagers have been prosecuted for forest encroachment over the past four months despite a National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order to limit the scope of reclamation operations, activists say.

    Pornpana Kuaycharoen, a representative of the Land Reform Network, said officials led by military officers are targeting poor people in forest areas, even though the NCPO has said the crackdown should be directed at wealthy business operators.

    Now the norm? Troops last month were sent to destroy a village of farmers who had occupied a former oil palm plantation in Krabi province. The farmers took over the land aver the company’s concession expired, but the junta sided with the business. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

    Speaking at a Peace Studies Network seminar on forest management on Thursday, Ms Pornpana said the NCPO has told officials to limit their land reclamation operations to focus on “large” forest encroachers.

    She said the instruction was made under NCPO order No.66/2014, issued in June. The measure was intended to replace order No.64/2014, which instructed authorities to suppress all forest encroachers. The earlier order was criticised because it risked having a detrimental impact on the poor.

    “If officials are seriously complying with order No.66/2014, then why are we seeing more and more poor people being prosecuted,” she said. “It appears the authorities do not intend to deal with the big cases, but have no problem making an example of the poor.”

    She claimed officials led by soldiers are frequently raiding communities and arresting villagers, before quickly moving onto their next targets, to avoid confrontation with other locals.

    She said the operations are failing to examine whether those arrested are involved “big cases” of encroachment or not.

    According to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), 501 people have been arrested and prosecuted for forest and public land encroachment, while 34,505 rai of land has been confiscated in 68 provinces.

    In the North, operations have involved 166 locations. The largest proportion was in Lampang, which accounted for 30% of cases, followed by 16% in Chiang Mai and 12% in Nan.

    A total of 77 locations have been targeted in the Northeast. The worst affected province was Kalasin, which had 23% of all cases, followed by 14% in Loei and 9% in Sakon Nakhon.

    In the South, 66 locations were uncovered. Krabi had the largest share with 36% of cases, followed by 27% in Phangnga and 16% in Chumphon.

    The Isoc-led reclamation operations are based on a national forest management master plan drafted by the agency and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

    The plan says 40%, or 128 million rai, of the country should be designated as forests within 10 years. Forests currently cover 33% of the country, or 107 million rai.

    Locals suffering due to land reclamation operations are planning to march in Chiang Mai on Nov 9, demanding the master plan be revoked and calling for a voice on forest management policy. They say they will march even at the risk of violating martial law.

    Damrong Pidech, a member of the National Reform Council and the former chief of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, said the best solution would be for the government to reclaim 10 million rai of Sor Por Kor land.

    Officials suspect much of the land is being held by rich investors, despite the fact land documents were only distributed to poor farmers.

    “It is good to have a master plan, but if it will be practical or not is another story,” he said.

    Prapart Pintobtang, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, voiced his support for the Chiang Mai rally.

    He said locals have a right to protect and preserve natural resources in their areas.

    Source: Bangkok Post