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Phuket Sea Gypsies lose first round of land fight

PHUKET: Seven members of the Sea Gypsy community in Rawai have lost the first round in what promises to be a long legal battle to continue living where they say they have lived for generations.


Nattha Thepbamrung

Monday 4 March 2013, 12:21PM


The building on the left belongs to Mr Piyawat. On the right is the entrance way to the village.
The building on the left belongs to Mr Piyawat. On the right is the entrance way to the village.

A civil court in Phuket last Thursday (February 28) ruled that a plot of land occupied by seven Sea Gypsy homes belongs to Piyawat Sa Ngiamkul, whose family owns the Ban Raya Travel & Tour Co.

Ban Raya Travel and Tour owns the Ban Raya Resort on Racha Yai Island and also runs day trips to the island.

The court ruled that Mr Piyawat’s chanote title for land under the seven houses is legitimate. Lawyers for the Sea Gypsies had argued that the Sea Gypsies had lived on the land for a long time, going back to before any kind of land paper was issued.

Pasit Thavornlamlert, one of the villagers’ lawyers, said that the owners of the seven houses – Manee Jalutangsee, Puth Saithong, Nang Miden, Chaba Bangjak, Boonjai Ponrob, Boonchub Ponrob and Sulee Borinayok – will appeal against the court’s decision.

“He [Mr Piyawat] went immediately to the village last Thursday after the court ruling,” said Sanit Saechua, the villager’s representative said. “He is planning to erect a building on the land in front of the village, just next to the beach.”

The lawyer, Mr Pasit, said that Mr Piyawat’s chanote covers two rai of land, and that another 33 Sea Gypsy homes sit on the same land.

However, Mr Piyawat told The Phuket News he has no plans to sue the occupants of the other 33 homes, and is prepared to sign a rental contract with them.

“I have to make a contract with the villagers because I have been paying for their water and electricity for a long time. Also, if I let them stay for a long time without a rental contract, they may lay claim to the land in the future.”

The villagers deny that Mr Piyawat pays for electricity or water - they say they pay the bills themselves.

Mr Piyawat said he plans to build a storehouse next to the beach to store equipment to be transferred between Rawai and Ban Raya Resort.

He added that if he finally wins the legal battle to confirm his rights, the seven villagers will be ejected from their homes, which will then be available for rent, like the other 33.

“I cannot let those people continue living here because they are trying to claim the land. I have to assert my rights,” he said.

The villagers’ lawyer, Mr Pasit, said the seven villagers do not know where they will live if they ultimately lose the legal battle. “They have no plan B,” he said.

The court action began when Mr Piyawat urged them to sign a rental contract, but they refused.

“If they had signed, it would have meant that they accepted they were living on land owned by him, so they chose to fight instead of helping him confirm his rights to the land,” Mr Pasit said.

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