New: Land and protest

12 01 2010
The case of Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont and his land at Khao Yai Thiang is in all the media as the red shirts demonstrate at the site, claiming double standards.

General Surayud, however, is at the weekly Privy Council meeting in Bangkok. A source cited in The Nation (12 January 2010) says that “one of the topics on the agenda will be the ongoing rally by the red shirts at Khao Yai Thiang…”. Later Surayud is scheduled to “hold a press conference about a charity concert in Khao Yai. He was expected to talk about the land controversy [then]…”.

The number of red shirts at Khao Yai Thiang is many more than earlier estimates suggested would show up. PPT suggested “hundreds” showing up. By late afternoon on the 11th there were more than 5,000, with many more still getting to the area.

General Surayud has “said he was willing to comply with the law regarding his controversial land ownership and would follow the attorney general’s ruling that his residence encroaches on the forest reserve.” Red shirts ask why Surayud gets light treatment when villagers in area are charged.

In The Nation reports that General Surayud has said he “will not stand down as a Privy Council member despite pressure from the red shirts to do so…”. He is also reported to have said he would return the land “ if ordered by the Royal Forest Department to do so…”. So returning the land is not yet a done deal. And, the report also continues to report that Surayud “has done nothing wrong.”

The Bangkok Post (11 January 2010) cites red shirt leader Suporn Atthawong said that the “group’s supporters would not resort to violence or trespass into former prime minister Surayud’s residence during the rally…”. Police confirmed last night that “there was no violence or unrest…”. The rally is scheduled to end on Tuesday morning but may be extended or even move to Bangkok.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “said blue-shirt protesters would not gather to confront the red-shirts on Khao Yai Thiang.” PPT can only assume that Suthep can make this claim through his connections to Newin Chidchob and the blue shirts, as demonstrated last April in Pattaya.

Meanwhile, Royal Forest Department director-general Somchai Piansathaporn said “his agency would set up a joint committee with other government agencies to study possible solutions to the problems of forest encroachment.” They would report in 60 days. He denied double standards at Khao Yai Thiang, saying that the case of Surayud was different from villagers who had encroached on forest reserve land.

The Peua Thai Party has suggested that Surayud’s landholding was larger than reported. Different reports have varying sizes cited as his plot of land, ranging from 14 to 22 rai. The Party is also chasing down other Democrat Party MPs with illegal landholdings.

The Forestry Department inquiry looks set to cause a huge political headache and serious hardship for hundreds of thousands. Director-general Somchai said the inquiry committee would “suggest measures to be taken to get the [forest reserve] land back. The measures, if agreed on, would be applied to cases of illegal occupation of forest reserves throughout the country, involving about 45,000 people and more than 5 million rai of land…”.

However, according to the Bangkok Post (12 January 2009), with the ominous headline, “Govt wages war on squatters,” there are multiple areas involved in 30 provinces and this will impact 400,000 families. That’s 2-3 million people! Not only that, whole towns are built in these areas. PBS Television showed advertisements for land in some of these areas on the internet and on a huge billboard in Bangkok. Anyone visiting these areas knows that there are “land for sale” signs everywhere. This is going to be a huge political firestorm if it continues, consuming politicians on all sides but potentially harming a lot of little people as well.

This is not to say that the red shirts don’t have a point in challenging double standards. PPT is merely pointing out the potentially huge impacts, especially on villagers who were encouraged to settle these areas in the 1960s and 1970s.