Phuket: Local activists are calling on the government to take back sea-gypsy ancestral land being leased to a hotel on Mai Khao beach.
About 20 members of a network for Andaman coast sea gypsies and activists petitioned the provincial office and MPs from the Move Forward Party (MFP) to save the land from commercial development.
Local heritage and the natural habitat of sea turtles are under threat, they said.
The petition was handed to Phuket deputy governor Anuphap Rodkwan Yodrabam and MFP MPs Somchart Thechathaworncharoen, who represents Phuket's Constituency 1, Poonsak Janjampee, and Julapong Yooket.
Orawan Hanthaleh, a network member, said the area have been sacred to sea gypsies for generations, she added, noting the local community has worked with the authorities in the Sirinat National Park to preserve the land.
Earlier this year, a barbed-wire fence was erected around the area, with the authorities announcing it was public land rented by a hotel.
Ms Orawan said that apart from the ritual site, the area is where the community makes a living from fishing and where sea turtles lay their eggs. The network has issued demands to state ministries to tackle the land problem.
First, the provincial governor must review the permit granted to the hotel, order the hotel to remove the fence around the area and stay off the land until the dispute is resolved, it said.
Second, the Finance Ministry, which oversees the use of the public land, must immediately suspend the lease of the land as hotel operations may threaten the sea turtles and the sea gypsies' way of life, it said.
Third, the Culture Ministry must declare the area a protected area for the preservation of indigenous values, it said.
Fourth, the media and the general public must keep an eye on the area to prevent a land grab, it said.
Ms Orawan said all relevant miniastries must work together to resolve the issue within 15 days or the network will protest in Bangkok.
Mr Anuphap yesterday said the provincial office will ask the Thalang district chief and the local treasury office about the use of the land, how it was leased and its impact on the local community.
The network's petition will be forwarded to the provincial governor, he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Somchart said the issue will be raised in parliament with the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment called in to explain.
Mr Poonsak said the land is culturally sensitive. Before any construction can be approved, it must pass an environmental impact assessment, he said.