House panel to meet with national park neighbours
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House panel to meet with national park neighbours

Members want more input as they try to resolve dispute over Thap Lan park land

Park rangers conduct a patrol in Thap Lan National Park on June 10. (Photo: Thap Lan National Park)
Park rangers conduct a patrol in Thap Lan National Park on June 10. (Photo: Thap Lan National Park)

A House committee will invite local people who live in the disputed areas around Thap Lan National Park to discuss a controversial proposal to declare thousands of rai of park land as no longer protected.

A heated debate has broken out between people who occupied the land before the park’s boundary was declared — and support removing protected status for the 265,286 rai — and conservationists and others who disagree with the plan.

The proposal was approved by the cabinet of the previous government on March 14 last year.

Poonsak Chanchampee, a Move Forward Party MP who chairs the House Committee on Land, Natural Resources and the Environment, said the discussion was scheduled for July 17. He insisted the committee must hold such a forum to help find a solution to the dispute.

The plan was proposed by the Office of the National Land Policy Board (ONLPB), based on updates to the boundaries of state land after the government decided to consolidate various mapping systems used by different state agencies into a single system called One Map. The new system was adopted in 2000.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) began holding on-site and online hearings about the proposal on June 28 and these will continue until Friday. The findings from the forums will be submitted to a government committee on national parks for consideration.  

When asked about the disputed areas, Mr Poonsak said the committee had earlier found them to be divided into three sections.

There are the areas that were inhabited by people before the boundary declaration; areas that the ONLPB identified after the national park was established; and areas owned by those who were accused of encroachment in at least 552 lawsuits by the DNP.

At least 70,000 rai were declared ONLPB areas, or Sor Por Kor land, said Mr Poonsak, adding that more details would be available by July 17. Sor Por Kor land is intended only for agricultural use. It cannot be bought or sold. It confers the right to occupy only and be transferred only by inheritance.

The national park covers 1.3 million rai of forest land in Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachin Buri and Sa Kaeo provinces. Some of the most contentious issues have emerged in Wang Nam Khieo district of Nakhon Ratchasima.

Prakob Siriwongtaosa-ard, chief executive of the Thai Samakkhi Subdistrict Administrative Organisation in Wang Nam Khieo, said villagers who had lived in the area for at least 50 years had agreed on using the boundary declaration from 2000, which did not include 11 villages in the sub-district in the park.

The 1981 boundary declaration, however, did include them, which led to at least 300 lawsuits by the DNP against local residents, said Mr Prakob.

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