Doi Suthep activists vow protest

Doi Suthep activists vow protest

Residents given 10 days to move out

Staff of the judiciary have moved into flats and houses on 'the scar of Doi Suthep' despite orders from the Prime Minister's office to stay away.
Staff of the judiciary have moved into flats and houses on 'the scar of Doi Suthep' despite orders from the Prime Minister's office to stay away.

An activist network in Chiang Mai called on judicial members to move out of the controversial housing estate at the foot of Doi Suthep within 10 days if they want to avoid a big protest.

A forum was held at the chapel of Wat Phra Non Khon Muang in tambon Don Kaew of Chiang Mai's Mae Rim district as part of a campaign against the housing project for the judges and staff of the Administrative Office of Appeal Region 5 in Mae Rim district. It sits on the highest location of the compound.

The activists network plans to organise a big rally against the housing project on June 30.

Teerasak Rupsuwan, who serves as a coordinator of the network fighting to reclaim the Doi Suthep forest area, said the group will hold a rally today in front of the Administrative Office of Appeal Region 5 and place a sign reading "No Man's Land", and on Tuesday, the group will petition the president of the Court of Appeal to revoke the construction contract.

"There must be no resident in the buildings located in the forest, and the land must be quickly returned to the Treasury Department. We will give 10 days, if there is no answer, we will certainly have a big rally," he said.

Last month, the government decided the 113-rai area where the 45 houses and nine flats are being built on Treasury Department land under the project will no longer be zoned for residential use. The land will be returned to the department. The project has provoked resistance from local people and environmental activists who demanded the land be reforested, although the judiciary has insisted it obtained access to the land legally.

However, it was reported recently that dozens of families have moved into the houses in the project.

Prime Minister's Office minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana on Friday denied this claim by saying that people moved into flats in a housing project situated outside the controversial area.

The department has named a panel to oversee the retransfer of land. It said there are no technical or legal problems with reforestation but that careful consideration was required to decide what to do with the houses and the flats already built or half-built.

Mr Teerasak said he learned that on June 27 that there will be a meeting of a panel in charge of the forest rehabilitation, after some state authorities and academics had visited the area seeking for information.

The panel will propose its recommendation to the provincial and then national committees.

"From the information collected, we found more trees have been cut to pave way for the fences of the project. In the past, academics found footprints of wild pigs, wild cats and mushrooms in the area. Now that trees are removed, we found piles of rubbish both inside and outside the construction area," he said.

Chatchawan Thongdeelert, another campaigner in the network, said Doi Suthep is a symbol of Chiang Mai. The fight was for spiritual value which is invaluable.

He also said that apart from violating local tradition, the construction would also lead to flooding and landslides which will subsequently affect the people of Chiang Mai.

On Saturday, a Facebook page named "Reclaiming Doi Suthep Forest Area" posted that there had been some landslide in the project area after the rains over the past two weeks.

It also posted pictures of fallen electricity poles which it said were taken by provincial electricity authority officers.

Mr Suwaphan said Sunday he has assigned the Chiang Mai governor as well as authorities in charge of security to work with the network of local people.

"I asked all the parties to think of public interest and work on the basis of empathy and understanding and friendly attitude," he said.

"What can be done for the local area in the short run, please do it and then discuss to find the resolution for the medium and long terms," he said.

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