Koh Yao villagers stage pier protest

PHANG NGA: About 30 protestors have been camping out for over a month on Klong Son Beach on Koh Yao Yai, demanding the government scrap plans for a pier to be built there by a large land developer.

The protesters comprise poor Muslim residents of Village 3 and representatives from non-governmental organizations supporting their cause. The villagers see the project, which includes dredging 100,000 tons of seabed sediment to build a breakwater, as a threat to the marine environment that they rely on to make a living.

The villagers began their protest after the project had been approved by all relevant government agencies during a July 20 meeting chaired by Phang Nga Governor Winai Buapradit.

It wasn’t until late December that residents of Baan Yamee, where the project is to be built, learned that the 85-foot pier planned by Bangkok-based developers Naracha Company had been approved in full and that construction was set to begin early this year.

The villagers sought help from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which took up their cause and sent letters seeking reconsideration of the project’s approval granted by both the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and the Ministry of Transport (MoT).

Citing arguments put forward by the NHRC, the MNRE ordered that the project be postponed indefinitely while the MoT reconsiders its approval, which was granted at the recommendation of the local Marine Department office.

However, the indefinite postponement of the project is not enough for the protesters, who say they will not leave the beach until the MoT scraps the project entirely.

Earlier this month, NHRC Commissioner Vasan Panich told the Gazette that the site is part of a “tsunami protection” zone, one of many coastal areas protected from development in order to leave intact natural barriers to any future tsunamis.

K. Vasan said that the proposed construction would “certainly” affect seagrass beds that sustain the area’s highly-endangered dugong population.

The NHRC has received a reply from the MoT agreeing to reconsider the project and will continue to pressure the MoT to come to a quick decision, he said.

About a month ago, the MoT requested that Phang Nga Governor Winai Buapradit have construction postponed until the MoT makes a decision, he added.

At Gov Winai’s request, the headman of Village 3 explained to the protesters on February 17 that the company cannot begin work until the ban is lifted – but to no avail.

“They refuse to budge until the government revokes its approval, because they don’t believe that Naracha will abandon the project otherwise,” said the headman, who asked that his name not be printed.

“This is a big problem in Phang Nga at the moment, so the Governor has asked for my help in getting the protesters off the beach,” the headman explained.

“I plan to set up a meeting between the protesters and a local Muslim leader. They respect him, so maybe he can convince them to leave the beach and wait at home for the project to be canceled,” he said.

Phuket News
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