The government has pledged to solve land conflicts between the Ministry of Natural Resources and ethnic Karen villagers now dwelling in Kaeng Krachan National Park within 30 days, Thamanat Prompow, deputy agriculture minister, said.
"We will solve this problem by using constructive dialogue. Both sides need to take a step back and we will keep negotiating until we reach an agreement," Capt Thamanat said after meeting Karen villagers.
He met villagers from the "Save Bang Kloi" movement and conservationists from the People's Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), a civic group monitoring land right issues.
Capt Thamanat was appointed by the government to accept a petition from a group of Karen villagers who decided to return to their village of Jai Paen Din in Bang Kloi, located deep within the Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi.
The villagers said they had lived there for generations until they were evicted by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plantation (DNP) over a decade ago.
The eviction came after the DNP, which is under the Ministry of Environment, declared the area the Karen villagers were living in a national park two decades ago. The designation led to the eviction of forest dwellers.
However, scores of villagers have been returning since early this year and are now calling on the government to return their land and give them title deeds.
After the meeting yesterday, Capt Thamanat announced said a committee was formed to find a solution to the land dispute by acting as a mediator between the government and the villagers.
He said the committee, made up of government officials, Karen and P-move representatives, will meet for the first time at Government House on Wednesday.
The government has given 30 days for officials to solve land conflicts, but it the time frame could be extended. Capt Thamanat said that the title deeds issue cannot be solved within 30 days.
The "Save Bang Kloi" movement is one of a handful of groups that have been camping near Government House since Saturday.