Rumors of Thaksin plans for Koh Yao denied

PHANG NGA BAY: Land prices on Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai are soaring, but local officials and residents have dismissed rumors that the boom is the result of speculation that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is planning a mega-project for the islands. Koh Yao District Chief Songpol Konkaew told the Gazette yesterday that many foreign investors have paid deposits for land on the two islands, which have a combined area of 154 square kilometers. The largest single plot sold was around 50 rai, he said. The district has received an 8-million-baht budget for design and survey work for the construction of a bridge to connect the two islands. There are also plans to build an extensive road system on the islands, he added. But K. Songpol laughed off the suggestion that the development plans were part of a scheme to add the islands’ tourism potential to the growing business empire owned by the prime minister’s family. The bridge and road network have been a part of national and provincial plans to develop the islands for tourism for a long time, he said. Rumors have been circulating in Phuket that the prime minister plans to build a casino on the islands, using the proposed Phuket International Conference and Exhibition Center (ICEC) project in Saphan Hin as a jumpoff point for the attraction. Some have speculated that several personal visits to Koh Yao by the prime minister, coupled with the Government’s seemingly inexplicable support for Saphan Hin as the future ICEC site, indicate that a mega-project is in the works. Koh Yao Yai Tambon Administration Organization chairman Prayat Srisamut earlier told the Gazette that PM Thaksin had made several private visits to the islands in recent years, but said he did not know the purpose of the visits. Meanwhile, the predominantly Muslim residents of the islands are worried that development could affect their traditional way of life and unique culture. Soonthorn Sakulsan, owner of Sea Canoe and also a Koh Yao resident, told the Gazette that connecting the islands would have both benefits and drawbacks. “It will improve transport between the two islands, but it could harm the environment and cause ferrymen to lose their jobs,” he said. He too said he was unaware of any land purchases on the islands by the prime minister or his associates, but confirmed that property prices began to climb last year and have continued to soar. “Most [land buyers] plan to invest in tourism-related businesses, such as resorts or hotels, because Koh Yao is centrally located and is easily accessible from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi,” K. Soonthorn added. Beachfront property on Koh Yao Noi is now selling at 1.5 million to 2 million baht a rai and inland plots at about 1 million a rai, he said.

Phuket News

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