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Phuket officials demolish illegal man-made plantations



PHUKET: Thalang District locals are furious after a joint task force of government officers demolished a man-made plantation in Suan Pa Bang Kanun this week as it was reportedly encroaching on 120 rai of public forest land in Phuket.

The first round of demolitions in the area took place on July 14 this year, during which five houses, a palm-tree plantation and a rubber plantation on about 48 rai of land overlapping forest reserves were torn down.

A 1998 census of registered community members and property claims showed that the area, spread out over some 2,000 rai, is partially covered by forest.

Government officials said that they had allowed community members to settle on land where the forest had died off naturally, but villagers not counted in the census were accused of encroaching onto government-controlled land, which is the origin of the long-standing issue.

At the time of the first demolition, former Phuket Vice Governor Chokdee Amornwat said that the court was also considering whether another 100 rai or so had been encroached upon.

Following a court ruling that the plantation was, in fact, encroaching on public forest land, Thalang District Municipality issued a letter on September 12 informing residents of the ruling and ordering them to demolish the construction immediately. However, no action was taken by the locals.

Another letter, issued a month later on October 11, gave locals 45 days to demolish all construction on public land, but it also went unheeded. More than two months after the second warning was issued, officials stepped in to clear the land themselves.

Officials cited the Forest Act, B.E. 1941 section 54 and National Reserved Forests Act, B.E. 1964 section 25(3) as the legal bases for the action.

The raid was led by Capt Boworn Promkeawngam of the Royal Thai Navy’s Phuket-based Third Area Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), and Kasem Sukwaree, chief of the Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Phuket Office.

More than a hundred officials from several departments were also present, including the Thalang District Office, the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command, the Army’s 41st Military Circle, Thalang Police, the OrBorJor, the Thepkrasattri and Sakoo OrBorTor, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), and several Phu Yai Baan.

Ampa Thongthep, a local, tried to get officers to halt the demolitions by presenting a document from the Ministry of Interior dated October 2010, saying locals were authorized to use the land temporarily. However, officers at the scene informed her that the document had expired.

Most of the encroached-upon area consists of rubber plantations along with some sato and betel palm trees, which were chopped down in the raid. The raid and subsequent demolitions are part of a directive by PM Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

“This demolition is part of government policy. There are four steps in the forest reclamation plan,” Mr Kasem said. “Within one year, we’ll stop deforestation and begin to get the forests back under government control. In a span of two years, we’ll be focusing on improving our forest management, and over the next decade we’ll be restoring national forests.”

— Winai Sarot


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