Military moves to “iron fist, velvet glove’ for clearing Phuket beaches

PHUKET: Officials bolstered by military support have softened their approach in clearing all businesses from Phuket’s beaches, but remain firm that all offending structures will be torn down.

The message was made clear yesterday by Phuket Vice Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada, who led officials and military personnel to inspect several venues whose operators were ordered to vacate public beach land.

First stop was Paradise Beach, south of Patong, where Vice Governor Chamroen and accompanying officials last week ordered a family-run business to remove their belongings from the public beach area (story here).

When the officials and soldiers arrived yesterday, the family had already moved all beach chairs, umbrellas and tables from the sand.

Representing the family, Amtien Tuentin explained to V/Gov Chamroen that the family charges a fee for each person who accesses the beach.

“There is no public pathway to the beach, so we decided to rent the land and collect 100 baht per person for access, which includes a beach chair, umbrella and free use of the shower and toilet,” Mr Amtien said.

“We also charge 40 baht per car and 20 baht per motorcycle for parking, to help cover the cost of maintaining the road. We take full responsibility for any damage or loss of vehicle.”

Mr Amtien said that the land rented, which covers three rai, has a SorKor 1 deed.

“I rent it for 5,000 baht a month,” he said.

However, he did not present a copy of the SorKor 1 deed and ignored questions asking him to explain who the landowner was.

V/Gov Chamroen told the Phuket Gazette that, despite checking, he could find no record of any public pathway to the beach.

By law, any public pathways across private land must be upheld so that the public can cross the land to access the beach.

“I am happy they have moved all the beach chairs from the public beach area since we visited several days ago,” V/Gov Chamroen said.

“At this stage he can still run his businesses unless officers from the Phuket Land Office conclude in their investigation that the SorKor 1 was issued illegally,” he told the Gazette. “If that is the case, we will order all structures here to be torn down.”

The Windsurf Shop and Restaurant, comprising a two-storey house and one-storey restaurant on Tri Trang Beach, however, did not receive such good news.

“The building owner could not show any evidence to justify occupying the area. She will have to remove the structures as quickly as possible,” said V/Gov Chamroen.

“The owner was given three days to remove all the buildings and all their contents. After that, we will have the buildings torn down.”

The family operating the Tri Trang Restaurant were also ordered to remove all structures from the beach. They were given 10 days to comply.

“We have been here since before I was born – that’s over 48 years ago,” Sompong Sakultub pleaded, presenting a document issued by the Marine Department in 1993 recording that the family was already living at the site, which at the time was accessible only by boat.

“We also have a document issued by the Patong Municipality after the tsunami in 2004 confirming that we have been here for a long time. We should have the right to live here.”

However, the military disagreed.

“Actually, you were issued a notice to remove the building on December 14, 2011. It should be removed as quickly as possible,” said Col Somchai Ponatong of the Royal Thai Army’s 41st Military Circle, pointing out that the structure was not a simple house for a family to live in.

“Although you have been here for a long time, public land should be returned to the people.”

Col Somchai expressed his concern for how the current beach cleanup campaign was affecting local people.

“I feel sad for people who will lose their businesses, but I have my orders. The results of the campaign will be checked on August 1,” he said.

— Saran Mitrarat

Phuket News

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