THALANG, PHUKET: Around 500 angry villagers blockaded Phuket’s Thepkrasattri Road for two hours yesterday after forestry officials arrested about 30 Muslims for trying to clear protected forest land.
Those arrested wanted to use 30 rai of Pa Bang Khanun Reserved Forest to build a new cemetery for Muslims from Tambon Thepkrasattri villages 6, 8 and 9.
One of those was the imam of Prusompan Mosque, Sukhum Waree.
Mr Sukhum said the Phuket Forest Office had promised Phuket Islamic Office the land two years ago, though the transfer had yet to be made official.
After armed Phuket Royal Forest Department officers made the arrests about 8am, a huge crowd of protesters closed the road in front of Thalang Police Station around midday, demanding the immediate release of all the arrested Muslims.
Long traffic jams built up on either side of the blockade, causing tourists to miss their flights from Phuket International Airport.
A crisis meeting at Thalang Police Station was held, attended by Mr Sukhum, Phuket MP Rewat Areerob, senior police officers, local politicians and community leaders.
By 2pm it was agreed to release the 30 arrested people and allow them to continue to clear the land as planned.
The protesters immediately disbanded.
Mr Sukhum said he never panicked throughout the trouble “because I did this for my people and not for myself.”
“I knew God would protect me,” he added.
Mr Sukhum explained that the old cemetery used by the villagers was set on just 7 rai and was too small to serve the more than 1,000 residents of the three nearby villages.
— Pimwara Choksakulpan
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