Tak residents vow to fight relocation plans

Tak residents vow to fight relocation plans

This bridge links Thailand's Mae Sot district in Tak province with Myanmar's Myawaddy. Cross-border trade between the nations could boost prosperity when special economic zones (SEZ) are set up but not everyone is impressed. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
This bridge links Thailand's Mae Sot district in Tak province with Myanmar's Myawaddy. Cross-border trade between the nations could boost prosperity when special economic zones (SEZ) are set up but not everyone is impressed. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Tak residents have refused to relocate after authorities declared state land in the province's special economic zone (SEZ) must be taken back from encroachers to pave the way for new city planning projects.

The government plans to develop SEZs in 10 provinces, six of which have been designated in the initial phase: Tak, Sa Kaeo, Trat, Mukdahan, Songkhla and Nong Khai.

City authorities in Tak want to build roads, public transport depots and other utilities for the economic zone, and say they need land occupied by residents to do so.

Buatong Kreukamwong, of Ban Wangtakeantai in tambon Thasailuad, Mae Sot district, said her family has grown crops on 44-rai of farmland for many generations.

However, authorities told her family they were encroaching on state land and asked them to relocate.

Tak locals have been accused of encroaching on 2,131 rai of public land where they grow crops, mostly corn and cassava.

The government has told them they must leave by the end of the year as it plans to reclaim the land for the SEZ development project.

"We don't want compensation. We want homes where we can live. We want our land where we can grow crops for living," Ms Bautong said.

In April, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed a new order under Section 44 of the interim constitution to enable the crackdown on forest encroachment.

The land reclamation plan has faced resistance from locals who refuse to leave, although some have indicated they would be willing to move if they receive compensation.

Several rounds of talks between state authorities and 97 alleged land encroachers have been held to discuss the issue, said Akeadul Ponsema, head of Tak's city planning department.

The SEZ in the province will cover a total area of 886,875 rai of land, occupying 14 tambons and three districts including Mae Sot, Phop Phra and Mae Ramat, he said.

Last week, Gen Prayut visited Mae Sot district, accompanied by state officials, to inspect the progress on Tak's SEZ development.

During his trip, Gen Prayut urged officials to build public understanding about the plans.

He said they should ward off local opposition by meeting residents to inform them of the benefits they would gain from the project.

Ms Buatong said authorities had told locals the SEZ development would make the country economically prosperous, but they had ignored their need to continue living on their land.

She said locals would face a difficult situation if they were forced to leave, and claimed authorities have not yet offered them assistance or compensation.

Jit Keawmoon, another resident accused of encroaching on public land, said some residents have agreed to move but have demanded compensation of at least 200,000 baht per rai of land in return.

On Saturday, Tak land officials visited residents affected by the SEZ plans where they found most did not have land deeds to demonstrate land ownership.

Some residents blocked the officials from inspecting their land, saying that a compensation agreement had not yet been reached.

Panom Saengpaeng, chief executive of the Sub-district Administrative Organisation, said the officials wanted to inspect residents' land so they could report their findings to the Ministry of Finance. The agency is responsible for leasing land to investors who want to invest in the SEZ, he said.

However, locals were reluctant to allow authorities to measure their land as it was not clear what compensation they would receive if they were asked to leave, Mr Panom said. He added that most affected residents insist they will not leave.

Mr Panom confirmed residents had been living on the land which the government wishes to use for the SEZ development before it was declared protected forest areas.

Affected residents plan to submit a petition to Mae Sot's Department of Land to oppose the SEZ development plan, he said.

Mr Panom said he was asked by a military officer last Wednesday to leave a meeting room where Gen Prayut was discussing the SEZ project with Tak authorities.

He said that before the meeting he had been asked by a military officer what topic he wished to discuss, and had replied that he wanted to listen to the premier's plans for SEZ development. He said he had no idea why he was asked to leave the meeting but that he had cooperated with the officer.

Authorities said they would continue negotiations with residents over assistance and compensation packages, but insisted that locals will have to leave the affected land by the end of the year.

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