The news came at Phuket Provincial Court on Monday (May 8) when sea gypsy Arnan Bangjak announced that he and his brother Mahren will be vacating their rented plots in accordance with a Supreme Court order issued last year.
Accompanying Mr Arnan on Monday was lawyer Pasit Thavornlamlert, who assisted the sea gypsies with their legal battle.
“The Civil Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court all approved the demolitions, but none of the courts gave a date for the demolitions,” Mr Pasit said.
“Now that the defendants have agreed to leave their homes, the court has ordered that the surety held against them be returned. The court also ordered that the defendants are not allowed to touch the houses. The defendants have now accepted the order.” he added.
The court-brokered agreement for Mr Arnan and Mr Mahren to vacate the plots in the heart of the sea gypsy village on Monday followed the Supreme Court on Oct 16 last year upholding previous rulings to demolish the two tin shacks, which serves as homes for dozens of sea gypsies.
The long-running legal battle began in 2009 when brother Suthep and Thawee Mookdee filed an action to Phuket Privincial Court against Mr Arnan and Mr Mahren.
On March 23, 2012, the Phuket Court ordered that the defendants move out from their two houses and that the tin homes be demolished.
The court also ordered Mr Mahren and Mr Arnan to pay B3,000 each in damages, with an additional B1,000 each per month for illegally occupying the premises. They were also ordered to pay B5,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
The legal battle continued for years and came to a head in February this year when more than 200 other villages massed to prevent a task force of more than 50 officials from demolishing the homes. (See story here.)
At that standoff, Suthep Mookdee, 71, a retired Sgt Maj First Class of the Royal Thai Army, explained that he and his younger brother Thawee allowed Mr Mahren and Mr Arnan to rent the land to live on.
Mr Suthep owns land the registered under Chanote land title deed No 92823. Mr Thawee, a former Sub-Lieutenant in the Army, owns land the registered under Chanote deed No 92822.
The Supreme Court upheld both men’s claims.
“The rental contract was renewed year by year until 2009, when I wanted to use the land. I asked Mr Mahren and Mr Arnan to move out from the area, but they stayed on on the land,” Mr Suthep said.
“We fought in court for seven years, until the Supreme Court ruled against them in March 2016. The court ordered them to remove the two houses from the two plots by Oct 21, 2016. At that time the nation was still in the 100 days of mourning, so the demolition was postponed until today,” he said.
Satuern Mookdee, another younger brother of Mr Suthep and also the head of the Rawai Cultural Council, in February explained, “My brothers spoke with those two rentals while the issue was in court as we were pleased to pay them if they vacated the land, but they are still here. If things stay like this, what will our society become. We need to follow the rules.”
However, despite his reclamation of his own land in the sea gypsy village, Mr Suthep called for officials to help the Rawai sea gypsies in their plight.
He urged them to survey the number of sea gypsies living in the village and to build affordable apartments for them to rent.
Additional reporting by Tanyaluk Sakoot