PM orders Doi Suthep backup plan
Demands alternative site to house officials
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered that a new residential area for judicial officials be found after the government decided to scrap the planned occupation of a cleared forest plot at the foot of Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.
He stood by a resolution reached in a Sunday meeting which agreed to return the area -- where new houses and workplaces were being built for officials of the Region 5 Court of Appeal Office near Doi Suthep-Pui National Park -- to its original natural state.
The meeting was between state officials and local people opposed to the housing complex project.
"I clearly ordered not to have people living in the area," Gen Prayut said Tuesday. However, he said this commits the government to finding a new place for the judicial officials.
"They are state officials, so they have a right to accommodation [provided by the state] under the law."
A new housing project must not pose a threat to the environment, the prime minister told the media during a mobile cabinet meeting in Buri Ram.
Environmental concerns were the main reason behind protesters' calls for the government to scrap the project at the foot of the, while the government was reluctant to demolish the houses and the court's new offices.
However, the resolution agreed to on Sunday favoured the protesters after the government relented and decided to return the area to the national park.
It led to a meeting, chaired Tuesday by deputy Chiang Mai governor Phutthiphong Sirimat, on what to do next. Participants, including representatives of protest groups, decided to establish three committees to carry out the plans.
Two state-civic committees will be assigned to restore the forest -- one to focus on reforestation and the other to decide what to do with the buildings, according to a statement issued after the meeting.
Their work will be supported by the other committee, led by the Chiang Mai governor.
The Chiang Mai Office for Natural Resources and Environment has been assigned to work out the scope of their duties.
Tuesday's meeting also agreed to have officials and people inspect the original forest boundary today to survey 147 rai of land, currently owned by the Treasury Department, with the intention of turning it into a protected forest area, the statement said.
The land was originally part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park but was transferred to the army after it was declared a degraded forest area.
The army later handed the land to the Treasury Department before it was earmarked for the housing project.
Protesters want the government to demolish 45 houses and nine condominiums in the area as they say it should be treated as a forest preservation zone.
This would leave only two office buildings and three flats for the judicial officials, hence the premier's comment on finding an alternative site.
The aim of the reforestation plan is to revive the natural ecosystem as well as prevent disasters such as landslides.