Call to help save Thap Lan park from developers
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Call to help save Thap Lan park from developers

Villagers demanding traditional right to farm the land

Park rangers take a rest while on patrol in Thap Lan National Park. (Photo: Thap Lan National Park)
Park rangers take a rest while on patrol in Thap Lan National Park. (Photo: Thap Lan National Park)

Conservation groups and national parks officials are calling for the public to come out and air their opinions about the planned excision of land from Thap Lan National Park for use by farmers, warning they have only three days left to do so.

People have until Friday to make it known if they are for or against the plan to reshape the park's borders. There are 265,000 rai of land at stake.

The land is in dispute. Farmers claim ownership, arguing they had been living on and using the land long before the park was established in 1981.

Thap Lan sprawls over almost 1.4 million rai, or 2,235 square kilometres, of land in four districts in Nakhon Ratchasima and one in Prachin Buri. The disputed land is in Soeng San and Wang Nam Khieo districts in Nakhon Ratchasima. Wang Nam Khieo is well-known for its resorts.

Calling for public input to save the park land, the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation on Tuesday explained the steps required for the online survey on whether they agree or disagree with the planned excision of 265,000 rai of land from Thap Lan, with a #savethaplan hashtag.

"All opinions are beneficial for the consideration of the issue," it said.

#savethapland and #savethaplannationalpark are popular hashtags on Thai social media.

Redrawn park border 

The dispute came to light after the former government, led by then-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, agreed in March last year to let the Ministry of National Resources and Environment revoke the declaration of the land in question as protected, so it could be allocated to farmers under Sor Por Kor title - to address the problem between encroaching farmers and the park authorities.

The new boundary line is based on a map at a scale of 1:4,000, known as the One Map project, which would result in the loss of 265,00 rai of the park for farm use under the supervision of the Office of Agricultural Land Reform.

But the process is not automatic. It needs public hearings. The national parks department is responsible for gathering opinions from the online survey and holding pubic meetings.

Farmers now, outsiders later?

Sueb Nakhasathien on Monday warned that the plan could clear the way for outsiders to take control of the land and use it to build more resorts or for other non-farm use.

"It is believed that many plots of land in Wang Nam Khieo district are already owned by nominees," the foundation said on the website.

National Parks Office director Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn agrees with the foundation. 

On July 1 he called for the public to come forward, give their opinion and help save the park. He had earlier also expressed concern that the park is about to lose a large area of land, and invited the public to oppose the move.

Residents of Ban Thai Samakkhi in Wang Nam Khieo district have criticised Mr Chaiwat and his department. They have called for fairness, pointing out that their ancestors lived there long before it was declared a national park.

Somboon Singking, chairman of tambon Thai Samakkhi Administration Organisation, said Mr Chaiwat was giving one-sided information which portrays the villagers as encroachers. "The villagers don't feel comfortable about that," he said.

Mr Somboon and other villagers said their parents had lived in there since the late 1950s, when the army opened up the land to counter the growing influence of the former communist party of Thailand during an ideological war in the northeastern region.

Kittipat Jainok said his grandfather moved to the area in 1960 and he is the third generation descendant to occupy the land.

Pinkaew Hermkhunthod, a resident of Ban Thai Sakkhi in Wang Nam Khieo district in Nakhon Ratchasima reacts during an interview. (Photo: Prasit Tangprasert)

Pinkaew Hermkhunthod said she was exhausted from fighting in court with the park for 12 years to prove that her four-rai farm existed before it was declared inside the park boundary.

Villagers could prove they had been living there before there was a national park, said Ms Pinkaew. She is due back in court in September, as she continues her struggle to save her farm

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