Battle lines drawn in Koh Lipe turf war

Thailand’s human rights commission (NHRC) is calling for the government to take urgent action in the Koh Lipe turf war to help sea gypsies living on the island in Satun province.

The Moken are a semi-nomadic tribe that lives in Thai coastal provinces and inhabits over 800 islands in the Andaman Sea. They number less than 3,000 people. The Moken have been living in the region with land bases on Koh Lipe for centuries, but are back in the headlines after an incident earlier this week.

Students gathered on the island to protest against a business operator who has claimed rights over a walkway used to access a school, a hospital, and a beach. The walkway is now closed.

Battle lines drawn in Koh Lipe turf war | News by Thaiger
The Moken have had land bases on Koh Lipe for centuries, but are plagued by land disputes with the government and tourism operators.

The NHRC’s Wasan Paileeklee said the commission is closely monitoring this new eruption of tension. It is just the latest of many land disputes between the local people, the government and tourism operators.

Since 2006, the commission has received 14 complaints involving local land rights and investigated nine of them.

Battle lines drawn in Koh Lipe turf war | News by Thaiger
The sea gypsies face a rising tide of problems including loss of hereditary land and a declining livelihood since the island became part of a national park, and tourism expanded.

According to Wasan, the NHRC has made recommendations on the verification of land titles, cultural protection areas and public spaces. Little has been done to address the issues.

There is now a real danger that trouble may escalate and lead to human rights abuses, or outright conflict.

Wasan urged all concerned to recognise the rights of the Moken people and follow the UN principles on business and human rights.

Mr Wasan said he would ask the PM’s office to observe the situation.

Thatchayanut Jiathanakan, secretary to Minister Anucha Nakasai, who chairs a committee on ethnic groups, visited the island yesterday to hear the locals’ complaints and promised to look into the matter.

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

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