TWO MORE wooden houses in Bangkok’s historic quarter of Mahakan Fort Community were dismantled yesterday, sparking strong protests that this violated an agreement between the authorities and the community.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) made it clear that the community had no rights to the land, and said it would demolish any house once it had permission from the rightful owner. The BMA said it did not recognise that it was prohibited from demolishing the houses under the “four-party agreement” negotiated in September last year between it, security authorities, community residents and academics.
However, Sudjit Sananwai, from the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA), said the BMA was obliged to follow the agreement to preserve 18 historic houses in Mahakan Fort Community, but now it had let two of those houses be demolished.
The 19th-century houses that were cleared out were numbers 113 and 127/1. Both the Mahakan Fort Community and BMA agreed that the owners had been willing to move and had hired a private demolition firm to dismantle their houses with the help of some BMA workers and military officers.
The latest demolitions have reduced the number of old houses on the “preserved” list to just 16. The BMA demolished all of the houses that were not on the preserved list last year.
Sudjit said that she went to Mahakan Fort Community to monitor the demolition yesterday and confirmed that the two houses were on the list of preserved houses.
So, she reported the incident to the police and the ASA sent a petition to the Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of Rattanakosin Island Development Committee, General Prawit Wongsuwan, asking him to instruct the BMA to follow the four parties’ agreement.
“We are trying to urge the BMA to be true to their words,” she said. “The BMA, security authorities, community residents and academics have agreed to save 18 houses that are part of the historic and cultural heritage of Bangkok and a living museum. But the BMA openly ignored its promise and violated the agreement.”
While acknowledging that the owners had agreed to have the houses demolished, she said the ASA would consider taking the case to the Administrative Court “if it is found that BMA was behind this action”.
BMA public works department deputy director Taiwut Khankaew stressed that there was no consensus on the agreement, there was no deal to preserve 18 houses in Mahakan Fort Community, and the BMA reserved all rights over the land.
“The two houses were dismantled by the military and the owners, and we took no part in it,” Taiwut insisted.
But, he added: “We have a duty to reclaim and clear the land to create a public park and we will help demolish any houses as per the owner’s request.”
He said that the BMA had no immediate plan to pull down any more houses, but his department was recently contacted by the owner of house number 75 to help them move out and prepare for demolition.
One Mahakan Community member, Saowaros Woramahakhun, said the remaining community members were firm in their stance to fight for their right to save and live in their homes. However, the presence of officers from the Bangkok Internal Security Operations Command made them feel insecure, as the military officers often visited members of the community to try to persuade them to leave and demolish their houses.
In its petition to Prawit, the ASA also asked that the military withdraw its personnel from the community, where they have been stationed for the past three months.