Aisoon Suthamthewakul, chief of the Phuket office of the Treasury Department, led a survey of the disputed land last Thursday (Mar 24).
Joining Mr Aisoon was Cherng Talay Police Chief Col Chumphon Kananurak and fellow police officers, as well as soldiers to ensure officials were not impeded in conducting their survey.
The land in question is state land held by the Treasury Department under “Phor Kor” registration, marking the land as government owned and allowed to be developed and used by special permission through government-approved projects.
However, some of the people occupying parts of the 72 rai (115,200 square metres, or 11.2 hectares) are claiming ownership through land documents that have yet to be verified.
Local resident Rakchat Munsuk explained that the land is home to about 900 villagers today.
Villagers moved into the area after a mining concession expired in 1977. At that time the Treasury Department sold or returned the land, divided into 700 plots, to local villagers.
In releasing the land for public use the Treasury Department handed over the land for use according to three groups: returning the land to heirs of the original owner, those who had held possession of the land for more than 30 years, and the third group were allowed to rent their plots.
A Cabinet resolution in 1986 recognised only 11 legitimate occupiers of the land, Mr Rakchat said.
“Of those, I am today the owner of [one of the parcels of] land,” he said.
Mr Rakchat explained that he allowed a boutique resort operator to rent his land.
The resort operator then sublet the land out as separate smaller plots to about 24 people, who moved in to occupy the land and now refused to move.
“So this caused what looked like an invasion to occur, but it was not encroachment, it is just a gap in understanding,” he said.
However, Mr Rakchat said that he now has been refused access to his own land by local villagers who now occupy the land.
“I am the one who has been abused all the time by mafia groups and the villagers… My underlings went in and there were fights all the time,” he said.
Mr Rakchat has filed legal action against all 24 occupiers of the land.
“I have filed a lawsuit against every individual to demolish all of their buildings because the land actually belongs to the Treasury Department, which according to the department will own it in the future according to a ministry resolution,” he said.
“Now, with all these issues, I have appealed to the Prime Minister’s Office, which has ordered the governor to act on this urgently. All the heads of local offices involved have assured me that justice will happen and that the villagers would still be able to make a living,” Mr Rakchat said.
“Some villagers come to use some of my land to cook [and sell food] without paying a single baht. I have allowed this because of the COVID situation. I am helping them by not charging them a single baht,” he said.
“But there are others who are demanding money from some of them. I have allowed this for now, and when the lease is up they will be gone,” he said.
One of the local people being sued for illegally occupying some of the land is Thanapon Samran. Mr Thanapon said he inherited his area from his mother, Lai-ra Samran, who had the land returned after the mining concession expired in 1977.
“I have worked here since I was 8 years old, when I worked as a ‘beach boy’. In 2005 I started a food business, selling Coke and ice creams to tourists,” he said.
“But in 2017 a boutique hotel company owned by Manasan Nararatwanchai and others entered the area by claiming they had rights to the land. They claimed to have leased land from a land owner and started demanding rent from villagers. Some villagers have agreed, others, like me, did not.
“I will not give up because my family have made a living here since my mother’s generation. When I refused to pay, there was a conflict. I was bullied and my roti shop was ‘hit’,” he said.
Officials confirmed there were no instances of violence while officers were conducting their survey last Thursday.
Officials said the next step was for the court to decide who are the legal occupiers of the land and who had rights to charge anyone rent for occupying or operating any business on the land.