DSI sues 14 'forest encroachers'

DSI sues 14 'forest encroachers'

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is suing 14 land officials and landlords for illegally encroaching on 700 rai of forest reserves in Phetchabun, which they turned into rubber plantations.

The wrongdoing, involving eight businessmen from the South, was helped along by six land officials who issued land title deeds on parts of Phu Ruea, Phu Khithao and Phu Pueai protected forests in tambon Sila in Lom Kao district, deputy DSI spokesman Woranan Silam said yesterday.

However, only five officials will be prosecuted as one of them has since died, he said.

"An inspection found the land title deeds were granted illegally for all land plots," Pol Lt Col Woranan said.

The land deeds, which resulted in damages worth about 29 million baht, are clearly illegal as the area sits on a protected mountain, he said.

Parts of the area are also classified as water resource zones where land use is not allowed.

The laws may be lenient to local villagers who have occupied and made use of the land since before 1954. Yet an examination of aerial photos taken before that year shows there was no trace of land use, Pol Lt Col Woranan said, stressing the entire area was forest land.

According to the DSI investigation, the eight businessmen acquired the land via a former local official in the Khao Kho area who served as their broker "buying most of the plots from villagers", before the land officials helped grant them legal ownership, Pol Lt Col Woranan said.

DSI investigators also believed a nearby resort construction had encroached on some 150 rai of forest, Pol Lt Col Woranan added. The area is part of Khao Pang Ko and Kao Wang Chumphu forest reserves in Khao Kho district.

The DSI is preparing a request for the Royal Forest Department to consider demolishing the illegal buildings, Pol Lt Col Woranan said.

Land encroachment is a perennial problem in Thailand with officials colluding with businessmen to poach protected areas and turn them into resorts. Sometimes land is illegally bought from farmers who were given rights to farm on protected land but not to sell it. 

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