Landless villagers in Isan continue to suffer from land reclamation

The people of Thailand’s northeast, or Isan, continue to suffer from the Thai junta’s forest protection policies despite the authorities’ confirmation that there would be no evictions from protected areas for the time being.   

According to Esaan Land Reform News, on Wednesday morning, 19 August 2015, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, officials of the Royal Forest Department, local administrators and police and military officers met with civil society workers and representatives of Khok Yao and Bo Kaew villages of Khon San District of the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum over land rights issues.

On 25 and 26 August 2014, the state officials announced that the much of the area of the two villages would be reclaimed and the villagers would be evicted since the area overlaps with the Khon San protected area.

The eviction order was announced under the junta’s master plan to protect and reclaim forest areas, Order No. 64/2014 of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which was issued in June 2014. The order states that people who encroach into protected areas and engage in poaching or illegal logging shall face strict legal measures.

However, the junta’s NCPO also issued Order No. 67/2014, which states that people who had settled in certain areas before they were declared protected and poor people shall not face prosecution under the new forest policy.

Officials under the Prime Minister’s Office, military officers, and other public servants inspect areas of ongoing conflicts between the authorities and villagers in Khok Yao and Bo Kaew Village of Khon San District of the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum on 19 August 2015

According to Den Kamla, a villager of Khok Yao village, the authorities told the villagers to leave the area within 15 days in August last year, 2014. Nit Tothun, a villager from Bo Kaew village, added that the people of his community faced the same order.

Currently, the villagers are allowed to stayed until further notice after People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move) and the local people who were affected by the junta’s forest policy had made successful efforts to demand that the government halt the eviction procedure.

The government has formed a subcommittee on land conflicts with P-Move and other CSOs to deal with the issues while suspending the eviction for the time being. However, no other concrete policies on the issue have been made.

“As the eviction order under Order No. 64/2014 of the NCPO is still in place, people are still feeling insecure,” said Nitt. “We would like [the authorities to grant] a request to have 2.4 sq km of land designated as a community land plot as we have asked, so that people can manage their own resources sustainably.”

Nit added that in the past, the Forest Industry Organisation (FIO), a state agency engaged in commercial logging, reclaimed over 4,000 rai (6.4 sq km) of land in the province, some of which contained local settlements, and about 270 families have been affected by the reclamation. He said that it was through much struggle that only about 50 families were able to lay claim to the land plots which the FIO took.

Den, from Khok Yao Village, pointed out that back in 1985, the FIO reclaimed land plots occupied by 33 families in the village to plant eucalyptus trees. The state agency promised to provide resettlement land for villagers, but the land given to them by the authorities was already occupied by other people.

At the meeting on Wednesday, the Somjet Rojphattanakun, the deputy secretary of the subcommittee to solve land conflicts, said that the villagers are now allowed to stay on until the subcommittee comprising P-Move, government officials, and other CSOs reach agreement on the issue.

According to The Isaan Record, as of last November, 2014, over 500 forest encroachers had been prosecuted and 300,000 rai of land had been seized.

According to the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) of the Northeast, since last year, 103 small-scale farmers have already been accused of encroaching on protected areas and almost 1,800 in the Northeast have now been prohibited from using their farmland and are about to receive court summons for alleged encroachment.

NGO-COD added that if this trend is allowed to continue, approximately 1.2 million people who are living on land that overlaps protected areas could be affected.