CHERNG TALAY: About 300 villagers from Cherng Talay blocked the entrance to Laguna Phuket today to protest over a variety of grievances against the operators of the five-star resort complex. The mob blocked hotel cars, taxis and buses, with the result that resort guests arriving or departing were forced to carry their bags through the picket lines. The protest started last night outside the offices of Laguna Services Co, which looks after common services for the resort area, such as laundry and gardening. The protestors, from nearby Baan Don, were objecting to moves by the company to fence off land from which Laguna draws its water supply. The Baan Don villagers argued that there was a traditional right of way across the land that should not be blocked. Today, the mob expanded as the villagers’ ranks were swelled by protestors from other parts of Cherng Talay, using PA systems to broadcast a variety of grievances against Laguna Phuket. The protest then moved to the main entrance of the complex. One of the protest leaders, giving his name only as “Chid”, told the Gazette, “The land was closed yesterday, which made villagers very angry, especially because we were told by about 10 guards that we were not allowed to enter the place. “The guards had guns and they brought a sign in Thai saying ‘Private Property’, which they erected at the front of the gate,” K. Chid said. Viwat Doktean, chairman of the Cherng Talay Sub-District Administrative Organization, explained, “This piece of land covers about five rai, which used to be public land. It was called Suan Chalerm Prakiat [the King’s Garden]. “Villagers used to bring food and goods there to sell to tourists, making the place very dirty, so we turned it into a public park. Thai Wah [Laguna’s parent company] agreed to take care of the park in return for being allowed to lay a path to the beach for resort guests.” Late yesterday afternoon, villagers went to the Cherng Talay Police Station and accused Thai Wah of encroaching on public land. Laguna Resorts and Hotels Managing Director James Batt told the Gazette that the land being fenced off is part-owned by the company, and is where the Laguna complex gets its water – which is why Laguna wished to protect it. “This got the attention of the Baan Don villagers, so they formed a mob last night. So this morning we were dealing with that issue. That was basically settled but some villagers from other parts – anyone who ever had an issue with Laguna – jumped on the bandwagon and the thing grew a little bit.” He said that intervention by Vice-Governor Manit Wattanasen had been invaluable in taking the heat out of the situation. “I sat down with K. Niyom [Tassaneetipagorn, Assistant Vice-President of Thai Wah], the Thalang District Officer, [local politician] Kamnan Sommit, Vice-Governor Manit and some of the community leaders to discuss the problems. “To be honest, some of the complaints were as banal as, ‘We don’t think so-and-so should work for Laguna Resorts any more.’ In addition, there was a problem with a title deed on a public lagoon, which we’d never heard about before. “V/Gov Manit did an excellent job. Any principal issues will now be handled in a less heated and better moderated environment, in discussion between three villagers, three people from the government, and three from us.” By 6 this evening, the protestors had melted away, the complex was as serene as ever, and five-star guests were no longer forced to carry their luggage.
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