Villagers battle landowner
PA KHLOK: Fifteen villagers were warned by police yesterday for trespassing on land belonging to Taweesak Apichatmaneekul, a Bangkok-based businessman. The warning is the latest development in an increasingly heated dispute over land ownership and local fishermen’s rights of access to their boats. The latest confrontation came after K. Taweesak recently started fencing off the boundaries to his land, including adjoining land he had recently acquired. This latest parcel of land is the fishermen’s only way of getting to their boats. Among those warned was Siripoj Cheechang, a local environmentalist and a member of the Pa Khlok Tambon Administration Organization (OrBorTor). K. Siripoj survived an attempt on his life earlier this year while campaigning against alleged encroachment into mangroves by prawn farm owner Somsak Wongsawanond. Somsak was subsequently arrested on charges of conspiracy in the murder of another environmental activist, Jurin Rachapol. At a press conference held today at his home in Pa Khlok, K. Siripoj explained, “In the past, people walked across this land to get to their boats moored in the klong, so they could go fishing at sea. About 300 people here depend on fishing and this klong is the only way get to the sea.” “Taweesak now owns the land along the edge of the klong and has started fencing off the boundaries of his land right up to the banks of the klong.” Villager Salap Raden, 64, said, “I have lived here and been a fisherman all my life. If Taweesak fences off his land and we can’t get to the klong, then how are we going to work? “We used to walk across his [other] land, but when we had problems with him in 1999, we started walking around. But now he is going to cut off access to the klong entirely,” he said. K. Taweesak tried two years ago to have villagers arrested for trespassing on his land but Witchan Bootsapanij, the District Chief at the time, refused to sign the arrest warrants. K. Siripoj also said today that he understood Taweesak had received title deeds for the land, but added, “The land is protected by law because there are mangroves here. “We have sent the Phuket Land Office a letter of complaint, requesting the site be surveyed again to determine exactly where Taweesak’s land ends.” Prajim Chanchoy, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Land Office, said, “We have already issued the title deeds [for that land] to K. Taweesak. But now that we have received the villagers’ complaint, we have informed the Department of Land in Bangkok, which will send officers to check. In addition, we have yet to discuss the land’s boundaries with the Phuket Provincial Forestry Office.” Repeated attempts by the Gazette to contact K. Taweesak for comment were unsuccessful.
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