MOVE FORWARD Party said today (June 3) that the military had seized 3,700 rai at Bang Khanun National Reserved Forest in Phuket and intends to evict the people farming and residing there this month while requesting temporary halt of their action until a new government is set up, Sanook.com said.
The party’s MP-designate Thitikan Thitipruekthikun said people living in parts of this reserved forest in Thalang district had complained that troops wearing camouflage and carrying firearms had told them to leave the area. Some of them sprayed paint on rubber trees to demarcate the large tract of land they had taken over.
Although many of them had correct land title deeds they are now fearful of losing their right to cultivate the land once it becomes a military zone.
Thitikan said Bang Khanun reserved forest, covering 3,763 rai 1 ngan 2 square wah, was originally a watershed area of the Forest Department. However there were disputes over some tracts with local residents having land title deeds issued since 1967, including Por. Bor. Tor. 5 (P.B.T. 5) titles, but others had none at all.
A problem arose on March 1 this year after the Forest Department head signed papers giving this large plot to Third Naval Area Command for use as a military base by its anti-aircraft battalion.
This then led to troops moving in and getting ready to evict the people living there who had not been informed that the forest park was being converted for military use.
Thitikan revealed that the navy chief of staff said that in fact only 500 rai was needed but the Forest Department instead gave 3,700 rai with the remainder to be preserved as a reserved forest by the military because the department did not have enough manpower for the task.
He added that whether or not encroachment into the reserved forest had occurred had still to be proven. Local people were divided into two groups with long-term residents wanting to conserve this forest as a watershed area while the other group moved in to farm there not too long ago without clear boundaries established.
After this problem arose high-ranking officers of the Third Naval Area Command called district chiefs, village headmen and local officials to a meeting and informed them that the navy intends to plant trees in the reserved forest in honour of His Majesty the King and will fence the entire large plot this month.
This made local people feel very uneasy.
Thitikan has made four requests as follow:
– Troops should stop all operations including evicting people and fencing the big plot until a new government is formed;
– Verification made on which parts belonging to local residents holding title deeds and how far the state land boundary stretches;
– A public hearing be held whether people want a naval base there or not;
– The environment should be preserved as this is a fertile watershed forest and no large structures be built.
Top: Phuket people farming in Bang Khanun National Reserved Forest holding a protest after the military moved in to set up a base.
Insert: MP-designate Thitikan Thitipruekthikun displaying a protest sign, above, and canvassing before the general election, Front Page. All photos: Sanook.com