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Rubber farmers threaten road blockades

Groups warn govt 4 highways will be targeted if price guarantees not met

Rubber farmers have vowed to block four regional highways on September 3 if the government ignores falling prices for their product.

Bunlert Chancharoen, a protest leader, said yesterday that more than 1,000 rubber farmers from Ranong would join other farmers from the rest of the country in the protest. Rubber is a major commercial crop of the South, but by failing to shore up rubber prices, Bunlert said, the government has neglected to help farmers. The government just dismissed the protest of rubber farmers as a political game, he said.

He said his group's complaint to Ranong Governor Cherdsak Champathet had fallen on deaf ears. Already 20 days had passed beyond the deadline that the farmers set for the government to address their problems, but nothing has been done.

The Democrat MPs representing southern provinces have put together a five-point action plan for the government, including providing rehabilitation funds for rubber farmers injured during the police crackdown on their street protest on Saturday. The same standard must be applied as was used for the red shirts wounded in political riots, the MPs said.

The group also resolved that Democrat Nipit Intarasombat would provide legal assistance to the rubber farmers charged in connection with the protest. The MPs also called on the government to accept the farmers' demands and support the farmers' efforts to alleviate their problem.

Rubber farmers in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Cha-uad district continued to block two stretches of Highway 41 with trucks on both lanes and demanded that the agriculture minister meet them to hear their grievances.

The farmers denied that their protest was politically motivated, saying it was purely about falling prices of agricultural commodities like rubber and palm oil.

Provincial police have already sought reinforcements from anti-riot police.

Agriculture Minister Yukol Limlamthong has rejected the demand to buy rubber at Bt120 per kilogram, arguing that the world price was Bt70.

Rubber inventories currently amount to more than 200,000 tonnes. The government plans to develop integrated rubber plantations, stressing management and marketing, as a solution to the problem of low prices in the long run.

Tree-felling plan

Under the plan, one million farmers must fell rubber trees that are over 25 years old to make them into planks that can be exported. The plan will be forwarded for Cabinet approval soon.

The farmers must accept change and if they hold illegal rallies, they would face the law, Yukol added.

Pol Colonel Bunlert Wongwajjana, deputy chief of Nakhon Ratchasima Provincial Police, will today call a meeting of police to draw up a plan to deal with the rallies of rubber farmers. He said he hopes protest leaders will be satisfied after talking with government representatives on Thursday, and that the rally to block major highways will be called off.

Chuan Chimklang, a leader of rubber farmers in Nakhon Ratchasima, said the farmers were struggling with labour costs due to the Bt300 minimum wage policy, higher fertiliser prices and the rising cost of living. He said he would be satisfied if the government bought rubber for Bt85-Bt97 per kilogram.


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