Myanmar thugs threaten farmers at gunpoint in Phuket land grab

PHUKET: Phuket Governor Maitri Inthusut led about 50 Army and Navy armed personnel yesterday to investigate claims by villagers in Wichit that a gang of thugs from Myanmar hired by an “influential person” had threatened them at gunpoint to vacate their land.

The sortie into the Nakkered Hills National Forest, near the Bang Wad Reservoir, took place after 20 families filed a joint complaint to the Damrongtham Center (ombudsman’s office) at Phuket Provincial Hall.

A gang of more than 10 men, reportedly all Myanmar nationals and some of them brandishing guns, had ordered the families to leave their plantations covering 400 rai in the hills and told them not to return, said the complaint.

“They were hired by an influential Thai person,” said one villager. “They could barely speak Thai, but their message was clear enough.”

The families grow fruit and rubber in the hills under the protection of SorPorKor land rights, explained Governor Maitri.

“The farmers have permission to use the land for agricultural purposes, but they said the men destroyed many of their crops and blocked access to their plantations,” he said.

“We can see by the ages of the durian, mangosteen and rubber trees that the farmers have been here for a very long time.”

Gov Maitri ordered the Wichit Police to track down the gang of thugs and to investigate who had hired them.

He also urged the farmers to be brave enough to record any further threats.

“If they are threatened again, they should report to the Muang District Office immediately,” he said.

“Phuket officials will arrest anybody for threatening locals, but we would have better evidence if locals could record or photograph those people who are threatening them.”

Gov Maitri also cautioned the farmers not to expand their plantations beyond the land marked on the SorPorKor land-use documents.

“They can farm only the land they have permission to use,” he said.

— Woranut Pechdee

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