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RICE-PLEDGING

Those with 'hidden agendas' warned not to take advantage of suffering farmers

Farmers, academicians and rice traders have called on all parties, especially politicians, not to play games with farmers, as they have been suffering from delayed payments for rice pledged to the government under the subsidy project.

The farmers should be encouraged to call for their payments as soon as possible, they say.

Thousands of farmers travelling to the capital on about 600 tractors in a long convoy on Friday decided to return to their homes in the Central region, including Uthai Thani, Ayutthaya, Sing Buri and Ang Thong, even though they were more than halfway to Bangkok. They had started their convoy on Wednesday.

Former Chart Thai Pattana MP Chada Thaiset, who represents Uthai Thani farmers and also proclaimed himself as a convoy leader, reportedly told the farmers to head back home.

Chada told them that the government had promised to pay what it owed them after conferring with caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her team of ministers, one farmer said, adding that the convoy would be resumed if the farmers did not receive their payments within a week.

However, some of the farmers disagreed with Chada and wanted to carry on with their plan to travel to Bangkok, and perhaps join other farmers already protesting in the Commerce Ministry compound, which has been besieged for almost a month.

An observer of a farmers' protest rally in Bang Pa-in, Ayutthaya, said some security guards who claimed to be part of Chada's security team persuaded the farmers to go back home. The guards also forbade some farmers not to go ahead to Bangkok, this person said.

The question of why some farmers who wanted to go ahead to Bangkok could not do so remains unanswered, raising another question of whether there is any hidden agenda behind this matter.

"There is political intervention in the farmers' fate," said Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Centre for International Trade Studies.

He said several groups of farmers that have tried to gather to protest against the government, demanding their overdue payments for pledged rice, needed a leader. But any assistance by those who have got involved with the protesting farmers was seen as just pretence.

"The cash-strapped rice growers are critically depressed. Politicians and other people should not fool around with them, as they have been hit hard. They just want to get their money to live their lives. Any help given them should be frank and with no conflict of interest," Aat said.

Rawee Rungrueng, leader of the Network of Thai Farmers, which demonstrated at the Commerce Ministry, said his group of farmers had decided not to join the rice growers' protest rally in Ayutthaya because there might be intervention by some groups.

Currently there are more than 900,000 farmers waiting for overdue payments totalling Bt110 billion.

What ties all the groups of protesting farmers together is the call for what they are owed by the government. But each group has a different agenda depending on its needs.

Kriengsak Tapnanont, secretary-general of the Thai Rice Millers Association, said Chada might just have wanted to show his responsibility to Uthai Thani farmers, so he led the group of demonstrators.

Kriengsak said farmers could easily be tricked, as they need leadership as well as some funds to help them live when they eventually do reach Bangkok.

Buaklai Resniyom, a farmer from Kanchanaburi who joined the protest at the ministry, said she had to leave her family behind as she just wanted to get the money owed for her pledged rice.

"Many farmers are confused about whom they should believe, as their 'helpers' may come with some hidden [agenda]," she said.

She said she might return home empty-handed if the government fails to pay her off.




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