Thousands join protests against Doi Suthep project

national April 30, 2018 08:37

By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM,
NISANART KANGWANWONG
THE NATION

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Chiang Mai citizens peacefully demand that judges’ houses be dismantled and sacred mountain area is reforested



CHIANG MAI citizens pressed their demand to reclaim Doi Suthep forestland from a luxurious housing project for judges and court staff, as thousands of protesters showed up at a rally yesterday.

More than 3,000 people from Chiang Mai and elsewhere gathered at Tha Phae gate in Chiang Mai’s old town to protest against the housing project for court officials, which has encroached into the forested area at the foot of the sacred Doi Suthep Mountain.

The protesters demanded the total dismantling of all buildings in the forest area and the recovery of the land back to its former state.

The protesters gathered at Tha Phae gate at about 8am before a group of cyclists with green bows, to show the opposition to the housing project, was dispatched to cycle around Chiang Mai’s old town moat and return to the main protest site.

During the main protest event, the coordinator of Doi Suthep Forestland Reclamation Network, Teerasak Rupsuwan, read a declaration proclaiming that the people of Chiang Mai would accept only one condition to end the conflict: the removal of all structures on the encroached land and its return to forest.

Teerasak stressed that the people wanted the Court of Justice to return the land because Doi Suthep Mountain has been respected by Chiang Mai citizens as their spiritual centre for many generations.

He said the people have a right to protect their sacred mountain and forest from any encroachment. The people also urged the government to take action on this issue as soon as possible to stop the project and reforest the land.

“We will wait for feedback from the authorities on our demand. But if there is still no official positive reply from the government within one week, we will step up our activism and return to the street again,” Teerasak said.

Yesterday also saw the performance of a Northern Thai traditional ritual cursing those who were behind the encroachment of the sacred mountain.

A parallel online campaign arranged for people who were too far away, or otherwise unable to attend the physical public gathering in Chiang Mai, saw 7,318 netizens participate via the official @DoiSuthepMountain Facebook page as of noon yesterday.

It was reported that the demonstration was peaceful, although a large group of police and military personnel were seen at the protest venue, tasked with keeping peace and order.

Deputy Chiang Mai Governor Putipong Sirimatya said that he was glad that the people had peacefully participated in a public gathering, as it was the right of all Thai citizens to express their opinions on public matters.

“Chiang Mai authorities are just the medium between the people and the government, so we have to preserve our neutral status and not comment about this matter,” Putipong said.

“However, I would like to encourage the people to express their opinions in public within the limits of the law and avoid politicising this conflict.

In the meantime, the people’s demand is being transferred to the government, and I would like to ask the people to be patient.”

Meanwhile, a recent poll by National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) revealed that just over 85 per cent of 1,250 survey participants thought the housing estate for judges in Doi Suthep forest was inappropriate.

This was because the project was damaging forests, nature and the eco-system, and the large amount of money spent on this project should have been spent on more important matters that benefitthe majority.

However, 14.5 per cent of the interviewees commented that there was nothing wrong with the project, because it did not encroach on nationally preserved forestland and it had been legally approved.

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