After more than a decade of legal fights for land rights, Lamphun farmer Somboon Kaewklang can now breathe a sigh of relief. The Supreme Court last week declared him not guilty of land encroachment. But his struggle for land reform is far from over.
The land in question once belonged to the commons in Lamphun's tambon Nong Pla Sawai in Ban Hong district, where he lives. The area was later allocated for the landless there. Through corruption, however, most of the land ended up in the hands of absentee land speculators.
The locals' protests against the land theft hit a brick wall. So did their calls to return the land to the commons and to prevent it from changing hands again through community ownership. When the economic crisis hit the country in 1997, the Lamphun farmers decided to make use of their old commons, not only to ease poverty and debt, but to spearhead a land reform movement.