Roi Et locals face intimidation in dispute over land rights

ROI ET – Residents of Kwao Thung Village have lodged a complaint with the local military, claiming they had been barred from entering their own lands for two decades by an environmental conservation group.

On 6 July, a group of locals, led by Suchat Songsaeng, village chief of Kwao Thung, lodge a complaint regarding land rights with Lieutenant Silatham Senawang, who is in charge of the area of Pathumrat District in Roi Et Province.

The group claims that 16 families have been barred from entering and farming on lands in an area called Don Nong Mong-Nong Klang since 1996 by a group of people that claimed to be environmental activists. The activists, led by man named Thongkhun Songma, claimed that the lands were meant for public use.

Residents of Kwao Thung Village show their land deeds of the disputed land plots.

 

The residents of Kwao Thung Villager presented a court verdict issued in 2007 that allows them to use the disputed plot of land.

The land in dispute, seen by The Isaan Record, appears to have not been recently cultivated or maintained.

Mr. Akarin, 44, a village representative said access to the plot of land has been in conflict since 1996 after a group of people, who claimed that they were activists, approached them and offered to buy it.

None of the villagers wanted to sell the land. Shortly after, they found themselves being blocked off from entering the area, Mr. Akarin said.

The village chief Suchart said violence and disputes have been going on for years. Villagers were intimidated with sticks and guns, he added.

A court trial began in 1996, and the villagers were granted the right to use the land in 2007. But the intimidations continued.

“A lot of families have received threats and were intimidated. Out of fear, they have stopped rice farming so the land has not been used for anything as of now,” said Mr. Akarin.

Villagers have requested help from various agencies throughout the years and during the terms of past governments, but nothing came of it, Mr. Suchat said.

He added that the meeting with the military on 6 July might help the villagers to get the lands back, both legally and in practice, as the authorities promised to look into the issue.

Lieutenant Silatham told The Isaan Record that the military is collecting information from both sides. He called the issue “complicated.” He said he has seen a document issued by the Ministry of Interior revoking the villagers’ right to use the land.

The revocation followed a proposal during the Abhisit Vejjajiva government to issue a community land deed for the disputed land. But following the villagers’ appeal, the revocation order was temporarily suspended.

Lieutenant Silatham said that the military is currently working with various agencies to bring about a fair outcome for all sides.

Reporting by Danuchat Boonaram, a participant of The Isaan Journalism Network Project 2017 organized by The Isaan Record.