A CHIANG MAI citizens group has warned the government of prolonged protests unless it promises to resolve the stand-off over the controversial residential project for judges at the foot of the Doi Suthep Mountain on the people’s terms.
The spokesperson for the Network to Reclaim Doi Suthep Forestland, Bunnaroth Buaklee, said yesterday that the group was dissatisfied with Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s remarks on Friday on the government’s solution to the controversial housing project. The group insisted that the authorities must send a clear message that they would heed the people’s wishes in ending the dispute.
The group’s latest call to the government came after Prayut said on Friday night that he intended to cancel the project and reforest the area, while he would also send Prime Minister’s Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana to meet with the citizens group to find mutually agreeable mitigation measures over this conflict.
The PM did not specify on demolishing the controversial buildings.
“A leading member of the Network to Reclaim Doi Suthep Forestland said that the talks with Minister Suwaphan would not be the end to the conflict, as the PM has still not made it clear that all buildings in the project would be demolished,” Bunnaroth said.
“At the very least, we want clarity and confirmation from the government that they will not use tomorrow’s [today] meeting as another tactic to buy more time.”
He said the group understood that it was not possible to solve the conflict in one day, but he insisted that the government should at least come out with a clear road map to reforest the area as per the public’s demand, or they may have to face continuous protests.
“We have expressed to the authorities about the Chiang Mai citizens’ demands. We want the government to ensure that the encroached area would be totally reforested and forestland from Mae Jork Reservoir to Haui Tungtao Stream would be transferred to be under the administration of the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department to ensure there would be no more forest encroachments in the future,” Bunnaroth added.
Meanwhile, Prayut said that he and the government were also disturbed by the conflict over the judges’ housing project, but they wanted all citizens to believe in the government, as they were working hard to find the best outcome for all the country’s problems.
“I have already ordered Minister Suwaphan to go to Chiang Mai to talk with the concerned citizens and find mutually acceptable solutions to this problem. As far as I was informed the negotiation to settle this dispute has progressed well,” he said.
The PM insisted that he intended to reforest the area first, while there would be negotiations on other matters. He also asked the people not to be hateful towards Justice officials, as they were not the ones behind the project. Moreover, he would also not allow anyone to live on that land.
“I would like to ask all sides to resolve this issue through negotiations and avoid a social movement, as someone could seize this opportunity to cause social unrest,” he added.
The negotiations between the government representative and the public today will be organised and facilitated by the Army Region 3.
Meanwhile, at an academic forum yesterday on the impacts of the judges’ official residence project at Doi Suthep to the ecosystem, community and society, Sumitrchai Hattasan, director of the Centre for Protection and Revival of Local Community Rights, emphasised that even though the project was legally correct, it was severely lacking in good governance, hence the project could be considered as unjust.
“If normal people encroach on forestland like this, they may face the charge of aggravating climate change and in the past there were several cases where poor people were penalised with compensation demands up to Bt150,000 per rai for making the world warmer by deforestation,” Sumitrchai said.
“In this case, the authorities may have to pay up to Bt90 million if they were subjected to the climate change allegation for deforesting Doi Suthep.”