Isaan forest community faces eviction

Villagers in Isaan facing land encroachment charges have vowed to fight for their rights to what they claim as their ancestral land.

According to Tanintat Phukaew, a citizen journalist, the Provincial Court of Surin Province on 21 July 2017 will read the verdict in a land encroachment case in which 31 villagers from Khok Chok forest community in Mueang District of Surin Province are accused of occupying 883 rai of public land.

Krasri Loythong, the defence lawyer for the villagers, said that in 2014 public officials visited the community and detained 11 villagers before taking them to a military base in the province. They were quickly released, but the authorities also confiscated their farming equipment.

Sukanda Phundi, a leader of the forest community who is among the 11, said that the dispute over the land plot has been ongoing since 1925 when 2,100 rai of land in the district, including the disputed 883 rai, was declared public land although many families had already settled in the area.

She added that in 1979 the then village chief asked the villagers to hand in their SK1 Land Claim Certificates in exchange for NS3 Land Utilisation Certificates. However, in 1982 the land was declared public land.

Krasri said that Won Yenprakhon, 97, the oldest person in the community, possesses an SK1 document which clearly shows that he lived in the area before it was declared a public land in 1982, adding that Won inherited the land from his parents.

In the last five years, the villagers have been fighting for the right to stay on the land and have submitted a petition to the Department of Provincial Administration of Surin and the Administrative Court. However, nothing has been done, said Sukanda, adding that they might submit another petition to the government.

The community leader said that the villagers are willing to compromise with the authorities to give up some of the land, but they do not want to be evicted from the area.  

Villagers from Khok Chok forest community in Mueang District of Surin Province