Officials, troops to reclaim forest land

Officials, troops to reclaim forest land

Nakhon Ratchasima: Environment officials will join forces with soldiers next month to start reclaiming four million rai of encroached forest land which businessmen have illegally turned into rubber plantations.

The crackdown is set for June 1, when the officials, backed by military officers, will raid target areas and return the forest areas to their natural state.

The planting of rubber plantations is common in cases of forest encroachment.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dapong Rattanasuwan said tackling the problem is a top priority because domestic rubber stocks are currently too high.

Gen Dapong said the crackdown may help to solve the problem of low rubber prices.

Explaining his policy yesterday to authorities from the ministry, the military and police units in Nakhon Ratchasima's Muang district, he vowed the crackdown to eradicate forest encroachment would be carried out nationwide.

Well-known for its scenic forests, Nakhon Ratchasima has been one of the Northeast's biggest casualties of forest encroachment. In this region alone, 400,000 rai of forest has been lost to the unlawful expansion of rubber plantations.

The province's encroached forests comprise 10% of the country's illegally occupied land. Gen Dapong's goal for this year's crackdown is for officials to claim back at least 90,000 rai of encroached forests in the Northeast.

Authorities know which areas are illegally occupied because they have inspected them, he said, reminding wrongdoers they would not be able to avoid the crackdown because their rubber plantations are on a watch list.

The crackdown primarily targets businessmen and their nominees without legitimate land documents, he said.

As for villagers encroaching on forest land, Gen Dapong said his officials will take action by talking to them first and then finding a way out for them.

"We need to do more than enforce laws to help poor people," Gen Dapong said, adding other measures are necessary to find sustainable solutions to their plight.

Gen Dapong assured the environmental officers were the right men for the job. With military back-up, they no longer have to worry about pressure from influential people, he said.

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