Red shirt 'spoils' Doi Suthep protest

Red shirt 'spoils' Doi Suthep protest

Army claims that Dab Chit's presence weakens movement

The army is concerned that the presence of a local red shirt leader in a rally against a housing project in Chiang Mai may spoil the protest movement, according to Third Army Region commander Wijak Siribansop.

The authorities had promised not to block the protest based around Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai's old city. However, they later became aware that a local red shirt leader, Phichit Tamul, alias Dab Chit, also took part in the rally. His role could undermine the objective of the protests, the army claimed.

Lt Gen Wijak said the protesters' demands were being followed up in practice but they cannot be met so quickly because legal steps have to be followed, which can take time.

"The buildings that sit on the forest land are state properties. It's not like they can be torn down immediately," the commander said.

He insisted that no one is living in the 40 homes where construction allegedly encroaches on forest land. However, some middle-rank and junior officials are known to be living in nine apartments located in the area. The commander said there was nowhere else to move them to right now.

"All sides are doing the best they can to deal with the problem," Lt Gen Wijak said.

Local residents opposed to the housing project at the foothills of Doi Suthep on Sunday demonstrated in Chiang Mai and repeated their demands for the land to be returned quickly to the forest.

The area has been used for a housing project for judicial officials of the Region 5 Appeals Court in tambon Don Kaew of Mae Rim district.

Opponents of the project said an agreement had been reached in talks with the Prime Minister's Office Minister Suvaphan Tanyuvardhana about four months ago in which the 49 houses and nine apartment buildings built on forest land would be dismantled leading to speedy rehabilitation of the forest -- but no action has been taken so far.

Also on Sunday, the courts of justice spokesman Suriyant Hongwilai said the issue concerning the dismantling of the houses and apartments was being handled by a committee chaired by Mr Suvaphan.

The panel will proceed with the dismantling and restoration of the land after the courts of justice decided to move the housing project to Chiang Rai instead.

Activities symbolising the demand for a quick return of the forest started on Sundaymorning in Chiang Mai. A number of demonstrators rode bicycles bearing green ribbons along the old city moat to encourage other Chiang Mai residents to join the demonstration.

Police and defence volunteers were deployed to ensure the demonstration remained peaceful.

An announcement was also made on loudspeakers informing rally-goers that permission was required to fly drones.

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