Southern land rights activist shot dead

One of the community leaders of an embattled farmers’ community in southern Thailand has been assassinated. He is the fourth villager assassinated during the on-going dispute with a palm oil company.

Chai Bunthonglek, a 61-year-old member of the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT) from Khlong Sai Pattana Community in Chai Buri District of southern Surat Thani Province, was assassinated by two gunmen around 6 pm on Thursday. Chai was shot dead at his house by a .357 gun.

He is the fourth member of the SPFT from Khlong Sai Pattana Community to be shot dead.

Earlier in 2010, Somporn Pattanabhumi, a former SPFT member from the community, was assassinated. In 2012, Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonrat, human rights defenders and SPFT members, were shot and killed while travelling to a local market in the district.

Chai Bunthonglek (far right) and villagers of Khlong Sai Pattana Community in Surat Thani province at a rally to protect the community's land on 2 October 2014. The banner reads: ‘We will stand for justice to protect land to the end. Stop evicting the poor. The Khlong Sai people will fight’ (file Photo)

There have been repeated reports of members of the community being threatened and intimidated by unidentified groups of men.

Khlong Sai Pattana community has been engaged for many years in an ongoing land dispute involving Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd., a palm oil company.

In 2007, the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO), a government agency which owns the land plot, sued Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd. for land encroachment. ALRO won the case in the court of first instance and the appeal court. However, the case is currently before the Supreme Court. Until the dispute is resolved, the government has granted the Klhong Sai Pattana community full entitlement to the 1355 rai (535 acres) in question. The community currently occupies 200 rai (70 acres) of the plot.

Since the conflict erupted, Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd. has filed several suits against SPFT members on allegations that its campaigns are affecting the company's business interests.

The land dispute between the company and the community is now under the land conflict solution committee of the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move).