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Be wary of govt tricks, farmers told

Independent experts must inspect rice warehouses, says Warong

FORMER DEMOCRAT MP Warong Dechgitvikrom yesterday urged farmers affected by overdue pledged-rice payments not to fall for caretaker Commerce Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpai-san's invitation to check on warehouses storing pledged rice.

Warong said the farmers' visits to warehouses would be used by the caretaker government as proof that pledged rice wasn't missing or rotten. The farmers might be shown only the outside or surrounding areas of the warehouses, or rotten rice could be hidden under good rice. He suggested an independent committee with expert representatives should be set up to inspect the facilities along with farmers, adding that the examinations should be done simultaneously across the country and without advance notice. Regarding a blaze at a granary in Lop Buri's Chai Badan district on Tuesday, Warong urged the public not to take damage estimates literally. He said the fire had ruined not only the couple of hundred sacks of rice reported, but also rice may be affected by water damage stemming from fire-fighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze.

Opponents of the pledging scheme have raised suspicions that the fire was started deliberately to cover evidence of irregularities.

Lop Buri Governor Thanakom Jongjiri yesterday said the granary blaze was unlikely to have been the result of arson. The granary, which is surrounded by a fence, stores only broken rice, he said. The governor added that 50 police would be deployed to provide security at the granary. The governor spoke after joining a police forensic team investigating the fire in the district's tambon Lamnarai.

The granary - one of hundreds of government-owned facilities used to store rice under the controversial pledging scheme - reportedly suffered a structural collapse in mid-January, and the rice there was awaiting relocation to another site, according to police.

Pol Colonel Pongnaresuan Tantiwatta-na, an investigator, said the fire's flash point was in the middle of the rice pile. A total of 120 sacks of rice were damaged, he said, 40 of them destroyed by fire and water and the other 80 having simply fallen apart. He said police would look into comments made by the granary's owner, who speculated that the fire might have been caused by flames spreading from an adjacent sugarcane field.

In related news, rice farmers' protests to demand their overdue payments continued yesterday.

Northern Farmers Network chairman Kittisak Rattanawaraha said the affected farmers and the Lawyers Council of Thailand would soon sue at least 10 members of the caretaker government along with those involved in the scheme. He also said his group would join other regions' farmers in a major rally in Bangkok today(February 13) to demand the rice money and to oust the caretaker government, as they wanted a new government that would be fully authorised to help farmers.

In Uttaradit's Muang district, 500 farmers yesterday blocked one lane of the Asia Highway 11 in tambon Hat Kruad. They demanded that the caretaker government pay the overdue rice money within seven days or they would come back to completely block the Wang Si Soob Intersection in tambon Ngew Ngam, which would totally block the entrance to Uttaradit City.




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