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Opinion: Baron vs sea gypsies

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: The ongoing land dispute between the Rawai Sea Gypsy community and a powerful real estate investment firm needs to be resolved peacefully and equitably. Working out a solution will certainly not be easy and will require concessions from both sides.

Phuket has a long, rich history of land rights disputes between some of the richest and poorest elements of Thai society.

Let us not forget that it was the Democrat Party’s National Agricultural Land Reform Program (SorPorKor) land scandal here in Phuket that eventually led to the downfall of then-Premier Chuan Leekpai’s government.

That scandal saw vast tracts of degraded forest land earmarked solely for agricultural use by the poor somehow slip into the hands of some of Phuket’s wealthiest landowning clans, many of which had close ties to the ruling Democrats.

But that is just the tip of a much larger iceberg. Many large communities in Phuket have been developed on encroached-upon state land. One of the largest, the Soi Kingkaew community in Rassada, is home to many hundreds of households. These were established by squatters from off the island who came to Phuket to find work. While officials turned a blind eye, they encroached on protected mangrove reserves by setting up the shanties that have, in some cases, now been transformed into what could be described as luxury homes.

Similar situations prevail in numerous locales across the island’s three districts, yet government-enforced evictions have nevertheless been rare. In most cases, the needs of the poor have, quite literally, been accommodated in one way or another.

Despite this background, no previous land dispute can match the sea gypsy versus Baron World Trade confrontation about seaside land in Rawai, which just happens to be the sea gypsies ancestral home, their monsoon season foothold on terra firma.

The David and Goliath narrative sounds almost too perfect, as if it had been penned by an over-reaching Hollywood script writer.

In one corner, we have the sea gypsies, the ultimate underdogs. In the other, we have the aptly named Baron World Trade company.

Merriam Webster defines ‘baron’ as follows:

a) one of a class of tenants holding his rights and title by military or other honorable service directly from a feudal superior; or more simply

b) a Lord of the Realm

In terms of unabashedly boastful branding, this has to rank right up there with Thaksin Shinawatra’s ‘Ample Rich Investments’, the offshore shell company set up by the former PM to control Shin Corp stock.

Though a tentative, tense agreement was reached this week in a meeting headed by Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada, the resolution fails to get to the heart of the matter, which can only be decided in the courts. Are the chanotes for the land, originally issued in 1968, legal? If so, will the Barons make a concession to help preserve the culture of the seafaring nomads?

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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