Koh Lipe tensions soar amid land fight

Koh Lipe tensions soar amid land fight

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is stepping up calls for the government to implement its recommendations on land disputes faced by sea gypsy residents living on Koh Lipe in Satun province.

The plight of ethnic groups who have occupied the island for generations is back in the spotlight following an incident early this week when pupils gathered to protest against a business operator who claimed ownership and blocked a walkway locals use to access a school, a hospital, and a beach.

NHRC member Wasan Pai- leeklee said the commission is closely monitoring fresh tensions, which are related to other land disputes between the local community, state agencies, and tourism business operators.

He said that since 2006 the commission had received a total of 14 complaints involving local community rights and land rights and completed investigations into nine of them.

The sea gypsy residents face various problems, from alleged land encroachment by the authorities to dwindling livelihoods after the island became part of a national park and the tourism business expanded.

According to Mr Wasan, the NHRC has made recommendations, including verification of issuance of land documents and designation of cultural protection areas and use of public spaces.

He said fresh tensions might escalate and lead to human rights violations if these issues are not resolved while urging all concerned to recognise the rights of indigenous people and follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP).

Mr Wasan said the commission would ask the PM's Office to send its officials to observe the situation.

Thatchayanut Jiathanakan, secretary to PM's Office Minister Anucha Nakasai, who chairs a committee on ethnic groups, rushed to visit the island yesterday to hear the locals' complaints and promised to look into the matter.

His team was greeted by 40 local fishing boats with banners threatening to hold a protest in Bangkok.

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