DSI targets Phangnga 'land grabber'

National park, navy land at stake in court row

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is gearing up for a crackdown on alleged land grabbing in beach forest and coastal areas in a national park in Phangnga.

The DSI and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation claims about 500 rai of public land in Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Muang National Park in tambon Tap Lamu have been encroached on.

The DSI is also targetting alleged encroachment on 15 rai of military land under the jurisdiction of the navy.

Pol Lt Col Prawut Wongseenin, the director of the DSI's Bureau of Consumer Protection and Environment Crime, said the DSI has requested land ownership documents for several plots in the area, as it disputes the deeds held by some of the private owners.

Some plots have been transferred to foreigners for as much as 25 million baht per rai, he said.

The DSI says the encroachment was perpetrated by an influential investor in Phuket with the help of land officials.

Land officials surveyed the area and created land ownership documents one day before the spot was declared a national park in June 1986. The investor used documents issued during this time to fight in the Administrative Court against accusations of encroachment. The Administrative Court later ruled in favour of the investor.

The DSI and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation then gathered new evidence, including aerial photos, and in 2011 tried to start a new case, but the court rejected the bid as the statute of limitations had expired.

Authorities then petitioned the Supreme Administrative Court, which ordered the lower court last year to take up the case again.

Pol Lt Col Prawut said it was unusual that land officials conducted the survey only one day before the area was declared a national park.

"The investor claims the plots are coconut plantations. But aerial images going back to 1986 show no planting activity," he said.

After questioning people linked to the plots the DSI says it suspects many residents are merely fronting for the investor and get paid as much as 100,000 baht to occupy the land, the officer said.

Pol Lt Col Prawut said about 15 rai under the jurisdiction of the navy have also been encroached upon.

He said there are reports that some of the plots designated for military training are illegally occupied and have been sold for 300 million baht. The DSI plans to go to the area to investigate tomorrow, he said.

Vice-Admiral Tharathorn Khachitsuwan, commander of the Third Fleet, said the navy has been working hard to fight encroachment on public land and on its property.

Encroachment on the navy's land is regarded a security issue, he said.

Phangnga naval base has been struggling to relocate people who have occupied parts of the base in Khao Na Yak, considered a buffer zone separating private land from the navy's property that must not be occupied.

"We have set up patrols to deter further encroachment [in Khao Na Yak] and taken legal action against encroachers," he said.

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Writer: King-Oua Laohong & Achadtaya Chuenniran