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Fight against encroachers continues

THE CRACKDOWN on people who have encroached on state land in tourist destinations initiated by the military junta continues, after a number of illegally built food shops and hotels on two Phuket beaches were dismantled. Illegal land title deeds are being revoked and the land repossessed by authorities.

Thawichart Nillakarn, chief of the provincial anti-graft office, said corrupt officials were behind the issuing of fraudulent land-ownership documents, a problem uncovered in most land-related cases.

He said 77 local officials had been prosecuted, including the former chief of Sirinat National Park plus four rangers allegedly involved in extensive exploitation of state land at Naithon and Naiyang beaches.

Some 379 plots were taken over in Sirinat National Park, covering a total area of 2,743 rai and worth some Bt50 billion, said Samak Donnapee, the director of the Bureau of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

He said all illegally built structures must be dismantled - not partly taken down or rented to new investors, as proposed by local business people.

He said most of the suspicious land ownership documents were issued with the help of park and land officials, who failed to produce mandatory documents and later submitted substitute documents despite their questionable authenticity.

Several former ministers or even deputy prime ministers were either involved in these scams or benefited from the entire scheme, Samak said.

Apart from disputed authenticity of documents, several cases involve structures actually located inside Sirinat National Park, although the documents indicate otherwise, he said.

One case was cited as an example: the Andaman White Beach Hotel is situated on a six-rai block, although the owners' land deed allegedly shows that it acquired only two rai - outside of national park.

The Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigation has agreed to investigate the hotel in question, located on Naithon beach, along with 13 other cases. The area where the hotel is located has a slope greater than 40 degrees - which is obviously not permitted for a private structure.

Samak said inspection of actual locations and relevant land ownership documents by forestry officials had also been tricky, as villagers would have been mobilised by the financiers to resist officials' efforts. But this time the operation had continued smoothly because the military had initiated and supervised the crackdown.

Sirinat National Park chief Kittiphat Tharaphibal said around 6,000 rai had been reclaimed from a total of 8,000 rai encroached upon. He said the land would be restored with the planting of pine and other trees to bring back its "original" vegetation, which is habitat for sand crabs and also used by turtles to lay eggs.

Of the 379 land plots, 43 were located in a forest reserve, 46 in areas between the Sirinat park and the forest reserve, 11 in other areas which were inspected, plus 279 which had been encroached on previously or recently.

The people who acquired these blocks have sought to change their temporary acquisition "right" into permanent ownership covering a total of 2,743 rai - and worth more than Bt50 million, Niphon Chotibal, head of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), said.

Phuket governor Maitree Inthusut said the problem had stemmed mainly from corrupt officials. He said surveys of these areas and inspection of land ownership must now be done with the help of local civilian administrators, plus land and forestry officials, and DNP officials.




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