Army intervenes in seminar on unjust expropriation in Chachoengsao.
THE NATIONAL COUNCIL for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Army have stepped into a land dispute between the residents of Tambon Yothaka in Chachoengsao’s Bang Nam Priew district to prevent activists from escalating their protests against the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development into a mass movement.
In the middle of a public seminar yesterday on the issue of unjust land expropriations within three EEC provinces at Tambon Yothaka, the co-hosts of this event – local affected people, land rights activists and the Thai Society of Environmental Journalists – were visited by military personnel from Infantry Division 11, high-ranking officers of Chachoengsao Provincial Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc) and the NCPO.
The Army’s arrival was not a surprise – they had notified local people beforehand – but as the soldiers were entering, the public seminar was suddenly paused and then taken over by the commander of Infantry Division 11 and the NCPO representative in Chachoengsao, Maj-General Worayuth Kaewwiboonphan, along with the deputy director of Chachoengsao Isoc, Maj-General Panit Siriphala.
Explaining their intervention, Worayuth said they wanted to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict over 4,000 rai of land in four villages in Tambon Yothaka between the members of old communities and the rightful land owner, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN).
“Regarding the previous reports that this land conflict is another land-grabbing effort by wealthy investors for industrial expansion within the EEC provinces, we would like to clarify that this information is not true. The EEC has nothing to do with the Navy’s policy on these plots of land,” he said.
He pointed out that despite the Navy having secured the rights to revoke rental agreements on the disputed land, the NCPO and the Army had negotiated with the Navy that the affected tenants be allowed to continue leasing 300 rai of land.
Therefore, he said he was asking local people to refrain from arranging public gatherings and organising protests over the “land grab” issue. Some of the affected people in Tambon Yothaka plan to stage a protest at the EEC Office in Bangkok next Monday.
However, most of the local people at the seminar said that the offer was completely unacceptable and urged the Navy’s high-ranking officers to negotiate with those affected personally.
According to the local history of Tambon Yothaka, which was gathered and studied by land rights group Land Watch Thai, the first record of settlements in the area date back to 1937, and were facilitated for families that lived along a canal.
However, Land Watch coordinator Thai Pornpana Kuaycharoen said that the first generation of settlers were uneducated and did not understand laws related to land ownership.
Therefore they did not stake official claims to their land by registering title deeds. This has provided the opportunity for outsiders to claim rights to the land from its rightful owners.
Pornpana said even though the legal rights over the land were not held by the original land settlers and the land ownership had changed hands several times, they and their descendants still lived on the land and farmed it on condition that they paid rent for using land they rightfully owned.
“The land has finally fallen into the hands of the RTN, which put the plots under the care of the Treasury Department since 1948, after the Navy bought three plots of land covering 4,000 rai (of land in the area,” she said.
“The Navy was acting as the people’s landlord and leased land to local farmers until 2004, when the Navy expressed its intention to take the land from the people and the Treasury Department informed locals of an intention to terminate their lease contracts.”
However, she said the local farmers |continued farming on those plots and the Treasury Department had not collected any rent since.
“The Treasury Department came out with a legal notification, instructing the locals to vacate the plots within seven days late last year, but all the people here have no place to go, so they insist on their position that as they were born here, they will never leave and will have to die here,” Pornpana added.