Navy defends forest use plan

Navy defends forest use plan

The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) defended its plan to use 4,600 rai of protected forest near U-Tapao airbase in Chon Buri, saying the land is needed as a security buffer against plans for a full-fledged U-Tapao commercial airport, which will be built nearby.

Vice Adm Prachachart Sirisawat, RTN spokesman, on Sunday confirmed the military is submitting a request to the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) to use the land for "aviation safety purposes", as reported by the media.

The tract in question -- which lies adjacent to U-Tapao airbase -- spans from Chon Buri to Rayong's Ban Chang and Muang districts.

Vice Adm Prachachart said yesterday the media and critics have misunderstood the issue, referring to reports which claim the RTN wants to gain control of the forest tract to safeguard its investments, especially along the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

"For the record, RTN had a 30-year permit to use the forest -- so we've used it for national security purposes.

"That contract expired, and we are trying to renew the land use permit," he said.

"It has nothing to do with the EEC. With or without EEC, the RTN will still need to ensure aviation safety around all navy bases."

While RTN indeed had a permit from the RFD to use protected forest around U-Tapao airbase, the lapsed permit only allowed it to use 2,558 rai for the installation of military aviation infrastructure -- not 4,600 rai.

Vice Adm Prachachart said the additional 2,042 rai will not only be used to host additional aviation infrastructure, it will also act as a land buffer which separates it from U-Tapao commercial airport, which has yet to be built.

U-Tapao airbase was first built in 1965, and the RTN has maintained a near-continuous presence there since the Vietnam War era.

However, the area is undergoing a rapid transformation which began when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power six years ago and his government embarked on a regional development push. Gen Prayut's government has been pushing to make U-Tapao a hub for both logistics and commercial aviation.

Under the current plan, a commercial airport -- tentatively known as U-Tapao Commercial Airport -- will be built in the vicinity of the navy's airbase and local communities.

While the airport is a commercial project, the RTN continues to retain its role in the area -- RTN is reportedly a member of the national committee overseeing the development of the new airport.

Meanwhile, Srisuwan Janya, firebrand activist and chairman of Stop Global Warming Association, questioned the need to use more forest land.

"Local communities rely on the forest to live. It should be reserved for environmental reasons and community use," said Mr Srisuwan.

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