Tham Luang upgrade causes worry

Tham Luang upgrade causes worry

Local people nearby Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non in Chiang Rai are concerned their farmland and homes will be affected by the process of upgrading the forest park to a national park.

The Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non forest park is home to Tham Luang cave, where 12 young footballers and their coach were trapped following floods inside the system on June 23 and rescued on July 8-10.

Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) chief Thanya Nethithammakul earlier revealed plans to develop the forest park in Mae Sai district into a national park.

Mr Thanya said the cave is now off-limits, pending a decrease in the water level so officials can remove equipment left inside.

The 5,448-rai forest park is under the supervision of the DNP's Protected Areas Regional Office 15 in Chiang Rai. It is also part of Pa Doi Naang Norn National Reserve Forest. Separately, officials have declared plans to turn the cave into a major tourist attraction.

A coffee shop owner in Ban Pha Mi close to the forest park said most locals were not aware the forest park would be declared a national park.

Sarinrat Pruksapanthawee, 43, said she wants to know the pros and cons of the plan and wondered whether the national park's boundary would be widened from the original forest park.

She said some residents also informally lease land in the area, which is part of the national reserve forest, but have no ownership documents.

According to Ms Sarinrat, the locals had been living there before the area was declared a forest park in 1986.

Anupas Patisen, a member of the Chiang Rai provincial administrative organisation council, said the forest park has an allotted yearly budget of 450,000 baht, which is too little as far as its size is concerned.

The upgrade would be a good option to secure more funding, he added.

The group of rescued footballers and their coach were discharged from hospital last Wednesday and Sunday went to perform a spiritual ceremony at the cave.

Twelve of them have announced their ordination as Buddhism novices for nine days from Wednesday at Wat Phra That Doi Tung. The other boy, Adul Sam-on, Sunday prayed at a church to pay tribute to former Navy Seal Saman Gunan who lost his life during the mission.

His Majesty King has granted food and allowed the government to use the Royal Plaza as a venue for a banquet to be held to thank all those who participated in the rescue mission, on Aug 1.

Titled "United As One", the banquet will include the farmers who allowed authorities to drain the water from the cave onto their farms, and all the volunteers such as those who provided free rides or laundry to other rescue staff, PM's Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said, adding that up to 10,000 people are expected to attend.

Meanwhile, Chiang Rai Primary Educational Service Area 3 director Kittichai Muangma expressed concerns about the 12 footballers' study as they had been absent from classes for a few weeks now.

Mid-term exams have already been held in some subjects, he noted. Their schools have been advised to provide extra tuition for the boys at weekends and in the evenings, he said.

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