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Rice-Pledging Scheme

Unpaid rice farmers allege intimidation as protest ends

A protest by farmers that lasted for days at the Indochina intersection in Phitsanulok has ended in tears.

After claiming they had been pressured by intimidation, the farmers dispersed Tuesday evening and had no idea when long-overdue payments from the government's rice-pledging scheme would arrive.

"We don't know what to do next," Siraprapha Kukhong, 49, one of the protest leaders, said yesterday.

Another protest leader, Chatree Ampoon, could not be reached for comment following reports that red shirts and officials had intimidated his wife over his participation in the protest. "She called him about the threats she faced. He was overwhelmed and cried. Many of us cried with him," Siraprapha said.

A number of local farmers began their rally at the Indochina intersection on Monday to press for payment from the government's controversial rice-pledging scheme. In recent months, the scheme has repeatedly postponed the payment to farmers, many of whom had to turn to loan sharks to cover their living expenses.

Some farmers who had no one to borrow from ended up committing suicide.

"We are in real trouble," Sasiprapha said yesterday.

Launched as one of the Pheu Thai Party's populist policies, the rice-pledging scheme has incurred massive financial losses during the past few years. The government is now struggling hard to secure loans to finance the scheme, which is allegedly mired in corruption.

Sasiprapha lamented that if the government could not pay farmers, it should return the paddy to them. "Then, we should be able to sell the paddy to rice millers," she said. She said some 400 farmers had registered their names with her group to demand the paddy back.

In Chiang Mai, the local branch of the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) yesterday disclosed it had already paid Bt1.3 billion to local farmers. "We just need a little over Bt870 million to pay the [outstanding] payment requests here," the branch's director Sakchai Kamruangrit said.

But across the country, about 1.4 million farmers have not yet received payment, raising suspicion the government might expedite payments to farmers in areas known as Pheu Thai's political strongholds first.

Sakchai dismissed such suggestions, adding the payments were made based on a first-come, first-served basis and within the budget. "Paddy in Chiang Mai is harvested before than in lower North and Central regions," he said.

In Maha Sarakham, the BAAC's local branch is waiting for a budget to pay Bt7.23 billion to rice farmers participating in the rice-pledging scheme.

Northern Farmers Network chairman Kittisak Rattanawaraha said most farmers in his network would not vote for Pheu Thai. "And after the election, we will stage a big rally to demand payment on February 2," he said.






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