Thailand: Dozens injured in violent clash at Phuket sea gypsy village

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    Nirund Yangpan hands a letter of complaint to Deputy Prime Minister Admiral Narong Pipatanasai. Photo: Kristsada Mueanhawong

    PHUKET: More than 30 people were injured in a violent confrontation between private investors and sea gypsies in Phuket today.

    “At least 100 men came to our village and attacked us. They put up rock blockades to keep us from accessing our village and an area where we perform traditional ceremonies,” alleged Nirund Yangpan, 40, a Rawai sea gypsy representative.

    Mr Nirund went on to claim that the men even injured a woman who was five-months pregnant.

    “We need protection. The businessmen have already threatened us with guns. They will never stop. It will only get harder and harder.

    “Today we were injured, who knows if any of us will be killed soon,” he said.

    Following the violence, the sea gypsies submitted a written plea for help to Deputy Prime Minister Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, who is currently on the island.

    Rocks were placed to prevent access to the area and military personnel put on site to prevent further violence. Photo: Kristsada Mueanhawong
    Rocks were placed to prevent access to the area and military personnel put on site to prevent further violence. Photo: Kristsada Mueanhawong

    “We knew that Deputy PM Narong was coming to Phuket, so we had already prepared to ask him to help us by revoking the Chanote title that private investors are using to claim our land. We have been living here for generations,” Mr Nirund told the Phuket Gazette. “We don’t even know many of the people who are claiming the land, but we are still fighting encroachment allegations in court – we have no other place to go.”

    On Monday, tension mounted at the sea gypsy village when the local community prevented alleged landowners from blocking access to the area (story here).

    “Representatives of Baron World Trade Co, which claims it owns the land, attempted to blockade the area with the help of about 40 officers from the army, Provincial Office and Chalong Police,” said Rawai Mayor Aroon Solos.

    Chalong Police Deputy Superintendent Parinya Panthasuwan, who was at the scene, explained that eventually officers and business owners backed down to prevent the situation from escalating to violence.

    “The company representative asked for officers to back them up in case the villagers resisted. They were afraid that things could become violent if officials were not there to help negotiate,” said Lt Col Parinya. “The company proved that the land is rightfully theirs by providing a Chanote title deed, so we did our best to talk to the villagers for about an hour, but then had to back off.”

    Chatree Madsatun, a representative from Baron World Trade, explained to the Gazette today that the company was clearing the 33 rai of land in order to build 17 villas.

    “We legally own the land, but could not do anything with it because the villagers were always forcing us away,” Mr Chatree said. “However, our Chanote is legal and we have the right to use the land for our benefit.”

    Mr Chatree explained that at this point the company was not blocking sea gypsies from accessing the land, but was preventing motorcycles from crossing onto it.

    “We are investigating the violent incident; so far we have yet to conclude how many people were involved and how many were injured,” said Col Parinya.

    Deputy PM Narong accepted the letter from Mr Nirund and promised to look into the matter.

    “I have already discussed the matter with the Governor. We will see what can be done. However, please be aware that we must do everything in accordance with the law,” Deputy PM Narong said.

    Tension mounted at the sea gypsy village when the local community prevented alleged landowners from blocking access to the area. Photo: Kristsada Mueanhawong
    Tension mounted at the sea gypsy village when the local community prevented alleged landowners from blocking access to the area. Photo: Kristsada Mueanhawong

    Police and military officers were stationed at the village to prevent further violence, confirmed Phuket Vice Governor Chokdee Amornwat.

    The Rawai sea gypsies have been fighting for many years to prove their right to the land that their families have been living on for generations.

    In 2014, DNA tests on skeletal remains unearthed in their village confirmed that the seafaring nomads have called Phuket’s southern beach home for more than 100 years (story here).

    The Department of Special Investigations (DSI) stepped in after the DNA test results were revealed and vowed to provide evidence to support the villagers’ fight to continue living there.

    Establishing long duration of residency is a key element in the gypsies’ fight against private investors, who had won court orders to evict some villagers from the site (Video Report here).

    “We hope the court will consider the evidence and dismiss the private land claims,” Chatchawal Suksomjit, then-director of the DSI, said. “But it is now up to the court, and we cannot interfere in its decision.”

    Former Vice Governor Somkiet Sangkaosuttirak touched on this note and told the villagers that it takes a long time to review land right ownership cases.

    In June last year, about 200 Rawai sea gypsies begged Phuket authorities for protection after a group of men allegedly threatened to shoot them if they moved concrete blocks that had been placed on the public access road to their village (story here).

    Villagers submitted the complaint directly to then-Vice Governor Somkiet and Capt Boworn Promkeawngam of the Royal Thai Navy’s Phuket-based Third Area Internal Security Operations Command.

    “Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada is aware of the issue,” confirmed Mr Aroon yesterday. “We want this resolved as soon as possible without any violence.”

    Additional reporting by Kritsada Mueanhawong.

    Source: Phuket Gazette