PRACHUAP KHIRI KHAN : A protest by rubber farmers in Bang Saphan Noi district intensified yesterday after talks to end the dispute failed.
Police put about 1,500 officers on standby yesterday amid concerns the protest might spread.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok warned the protesting farmers blocking Phetkasem Road at kilometre marker 415 in Ban Si Nakhon in tambon Chang Rak to disperse by 6pm.
If the blockade remained they could be charged under the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act.
The farmers refused to move.
Prachuap Khiri Khan governor Weera Sriwattanatrakul later held talks with the protest leaders to discuss their demands.
The governor proposed establishing a tripartite committee consisting of farmer representatives, relevant state agencies and academics.
The protest leaders reportedly accepted the proposal in principle but said they needed to consult with the other protesters first before deciding whether to end the rally.
"The protest leaders said they needed to consult the rubber farmers. The government is waiting for an answer," said Pol Gen Pracha.
The protest was still continuing as of press time last night.
Pol Maj Gen Thanet Sunthornsuk, the provincial police chief, said the reinforcements were ordered following a report that small protests might spring up in other areas.
He said the back-up force was to prevent a possible clash between rubber growers and residents, who were furious about the road blockade.
Police had also heard the protest would expand to the seafront Bang Saphan-Nong Had Thai detour.
The police reinforcements would be drawn from Phetchaburi, Ratchaburi and Samut Songkhram provinces.
However, the protesters ignored the deadline and last night were insisting on their demands for a government price subsidy.
The rubber growers started blocking Phetkasem Highway on Saturday, forcing Gen Pracha to pay them a visit and hold talks.
However, after negotiations lasting three hours the two sides could not reach an agreement.
Pol Gen Pracha said yesterday the government could not immediately respond to the five demands issued by the protesters.
Some of them had apparently been settled and others were not within the government's authority to decide, he said.
The rubber growers want the government to guarantee the price of unsmoked rubber sheet at 100 baht a kilogramme and oil palm at 6 baht/kg; and refrain from importing palm oil from abroad.
They also want a subsidy for all rubber farmers regardless of whether they have a land ownership document; and have asked the government to transfer the Prachuap Khiri Khan police chief, and spare the protesters from criminal and civil action.
According to Pol Gen Pracha, most of the rubber farmer representatives had previously agreed to a subsidy of 90 baht/kg for unsmoked rubber sheet in previous talks.
As for the demand the Prachuap Khiri Khan police chief be transferred, Pol Gen Pracha said the Police Commission would have to consider this matter, not the government.
Pol Gen Pracha said the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act, which has been invoked, would be strictly enforced to contain the protest.
Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan yesterday repeated the call for the removal of the road blockade.