Threats against embattled indigenous seafarers continue

An indigenous seafarer community continues to face uncertainty in a standoff with a land developer as an excavator has been deployed to create a fence on the disputed land.

At 2:30 pm on Friday, 4 March 2016, Thai PBS posted a Facebook video clip showing an excavator levelling land to build a fence at the entrance to a disputed 33 rai land on Rawai Beach in Phuket Province in the south of Thailand, where about 2,000 indigenous seafarers from three groups, the Moken, Moklen, and Orang Laut, have settled.

About 20 military and police officers were deployed in the area while the excavator was at work. The event was closely monitored by members of the community.  

Earlier today, Transborder News reported that Sanit Sae-Sua, a representative of the seafarer community, revealed that workers from Baron World Trade Co, an estate development company, which claims ownership over a disputed land plot, were seen at the disputed land plot.

“If they think that they are not guilty, then they should wait for the investigation process to be settled instead of just rushing the construction process and deploying people in the area at night,” Transborder News quoted Sanit as saying.

He further pointed out that access to the beach should belong to the public instead of a business operator.

The representative of the seafarer community added that on Tuesday, a group of men who work for Baron Company arrived on the disputed plot and when the seafarers villagers gathered in response, the authorities intervened and said that the company holds the title deed documents on the land.

The battle between the seafarer community and Baron over the plot of land on Rawai Beach made headlines on 27 January after a violent confrontation broke out between a group of 70 seafarers and a group of men reportedly hired by the company.

The skirmishes began as the Rawai Beach seafarer community representatives were on their way to Phuket Provincial Hall to submit a petition to the Damrongtham Centre, one of the centres established to accept public complaints, to urge the authorities to protect their community and livelihood. The men allegedly working for the investors used an excavator to lift big rocks to seal off the entrance to the community while the military and police officers reportedly just looked on.

On 11 February, representatives of the seafarer community travelled to the Ministry of Justice to submit a petition to Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya, to urge the authorities to investigate the land dispute between their community and Baron.

The seafarers claim that their ancestors settled in the disputed area over 300 years ago.

In the petition, the group demanded that the Justice Ministry order the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to investigate the land dispute and protect them from at least 100 men who allegedly used violence against them and destroyed their property in order to evict their community.

They also called for compensation for 34 members of the community who were injured in the recent violent skirmishes which broke out on in January between them and a group of unidentified men allegedly hired by Baron to guard the company construction site adjacent to the community.

According to a leaked document circulated on social media, the company contacted the Royal Thai Army before the violence skirmishes broke out last month, to deploy military personnel to guard company workers as they started to construct villas on the disputed land plot.

Villagers look on as an excavator levels land for a fence at the entrance to the disputed 33 rai land on Rawai Beach in Phuket on 4 March 2016 (Photo from the Thai PBS Facebook video clip)