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Govt 'will lose if demands not met'

Pay for pledged rice or parties will lose votes, farmers warn

About 500 farmers yesterday blocked the Indochine intersection in Phitsanulok, a major route linking a number of nations in this region, to demand that the government speed up payment for their rice pledges.

Their leaders gave the government until the end of the month to pay their dues, or they would step up their protests and punish the government's coalition partners by voting for other parties in the February 2 election.

The government claims to be short of the cash needed to pay the Bt167 billion owed to the 1.4 million farmers who joined the rice-pledging scheme. The farmers were supposed to receive payment for their pledges last October.

Phitsanulok farmers gathered at the intersection at 9.15am, using trailers and farm trucks to block the intersection. The junction is part of the East-West Economic Corridor that links the Kingdom to Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Despite the blockade, traffic was still able to move, although at slow pace, as motorists found ways around the intersection.

Ekubol Phuttharak, chairman of the Phitsanulok Farmers Council, led the protest. He said farmers in the province sold their rice to the government under the pledging scheme for Bt7 billion, but only Bt1 billion had so far been paid to them. Farmers have been owed the money since October, he said.

"I think if the government cannot pay the remaining amount, it will affect the votes of its coalition partners," he said. "Farmers will not vote for them."

Meanwhile, in Kamphaeng Phet, about 1,000 farmers rallied at the provincial government complex, also demanding that the government speed up payment for their rice pledges.

Surachet Siniang, chairman of the Kamphaeng Phet Farmers Club, said about 40,000 farmers in his province had not been paid for their rice and the government owed them more than Bt10 billion.

Surachet complained that government agencies had failed to inform them exactly when they would receive their payments.

About 1,000 other Kamphaeng Phet farmers also blocked the Salok Batr intersection in Khanu Woralaksaburi district. The blockade prompted motorists to bypass the junction.

In Uthai Thani, about 1,000 farmers led by Mana Thong-on, Wichien Khita and Sinchai Prasit rallied at the provincial hall.

The leaders said they would give the government until tomorrow Saturdayto pay them, or else they would join farmers from other provinces to block the Asia Highway in Ban Tanam On in Nakhon Sawan's Phayuha Khiri district.


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