Protests hold up Phuket sea gypsy DNA results

PHUKET: DNA tests that could prove the residency of sea gypsies in Rawai and help them counter land claims of private investors seeking to evict them have been delayed due to the Bangkok Shutdown.

The tests are being done on bones found last year buried in the dirt floor of a sea gypsy home. If there is a match between the bone DNA and the DNA of current sea gypsy residents, it would bolster the sea gypsies’ claim that they have been living on the land for generations (story here).

The results, expected by the end of January, have been delayed by the anti-government protests in Bangkok, said Prawuth Wongsinil, Chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI)’s Consumer and Environment Protection Office.

“Officers have not been allowed to work in their offices, which caused the delay. We thought the situation would be back to normal after the election on February 2, but it is not,” Col Prawuth said, adding that he was not sure when the results would be released.

The DNA evidence is not the only route the DSI is pursuing to help the Rawai sea gypsy community prove historical residency. They have also collected artifacts, aerial photographs, and archival film footage of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej visiting the community in 1959 (story here).

“One of the investors claims his title deed was issued in 1965. According to the law, in order for a title deed to be issued, officers must come to the site and measure the land. If any such officers had come to do so, then why did none of the villagers protest it, considering they claim to have been living here since long before 1965?” Col Prawuth asked.

At this point, the DSI has finished collecting evidence, Col Prawuth said.

“We’re sure we’ve collected enough. What we’re doing now is putting it all together. Once we get the DNA results, we will hand everything over to the villagers so they can use it in their legal fight against the private investors.”

As many as 600 sea gypsies have received court orders demanding that they move from land they claim to own. None of them have moved yet, citing their right to remain, Col Prawuth said.

“The DSI is willing to stand up for them in court and send our officers to testify on their behalf,” he added.

— Chutharat Plerin

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