The assurance of sea gypsies’ safety came after more than 200 villagers from the community in Rawai arrived at Provincial Hall today (June 22) to plea for help.
Sanit Shairshoa, representing the community, said that the villagers had already come to Provincial Hall to file a complaint over the issue.
“We came to Provincial Hall on May 15 and filed a complaint after a businessman and a group of men (on May 12) fenced off an area within the village that sea gypsies use to worship their ancestors,” he said.
“The men returned on Saturday (June 20) and blocked the entrance to the area with a cement wall and threatened residents with guns if they intervened.
“We are frightened of these man and we returned today to urge officials to hear our plea and help us. Please check the land boundaries again to make it clear to them and to us who has rights to which plots.”
Mr Sanit said the villagers will return on June 30 to hear the provincial office’s findings.
V/Gov Somkiet told the villagers that Muang District Chief Supoj Chanakit will send civil defense volunteers and the Chalong police chief will also send officers to safeguard residents while the land claims are investigated.
“We will contact the Royal Thai Navy and request them to sent additional troops to the area,” he said.
V/Gov Somkiet urged the villagers to be patient while officials confirm land boundaries and ownership of plots within the village.
“This process take times because it needs attention to detail,” he said. “We will will meet with relevant officials and form a task force to resolve this problem.”
The sea gypsies vowed to return if protection was not forthcoming.
“And about the cement wall blocking the path in our village, we will return tomorrow,” one villager said.
The sea gypsies have received much support for their right to remain at the village in Rawai.
Former Prime Minister and current member of HM the King’s Privy Council, Gen Surayud Chulanont, on December 18 paid a visit “to express concern” about their plight.
Gen Surayud’s visit coincided with the news that progress has been made in the battle between the Rawai sea gypsy village and local businessmen who claimed to own the land the village sits on – and had Chanote titles to prove it.
Pol Lt Col Prawut Wongsinil, chief of the consumer and environmental protection division of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), announced, “The investigation is finalised and we believed the Sea Gypsy people will win their case.
“We have sent the result [of the investigation] to the Land Department, recommending that they set up a committee to revoke the land papers. We are waiting for this to happen.” (See story here.)
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch will launch its new report “Stateless at Sea: The Moken of Burma and Thailand” at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok on Thursday (June 25).
“The nearly 4,000 Moken living in the Mergui archipelago and Thailand make up one of the few remaining hunter-gather populations in Southeast Asia. Effectively sea nomads, for hundreds of years they have survived by sailing around the region and living off the sea,” notes the report.
“The Moken face deepening poverty, marginalization, and discrimination. Most Moken are stateless, making them extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses and depriving them of access to medical care and education…
“The report recommends that both the Burma and Thai governments act immediately to protect and promote the rights of the Moken, including providing a pathway to citizenship and protecting them from economic exploitation and rights abuses that threaten their way of life.”
Guest speakers at the launch include: Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher, Human Rights Watch; Dr Niran Pitakwachara, commissioner, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand; and Surapong Kongchantuk, chairman, Human Rights Subcommittee on Ethnic Minorities, the Stateless, Migrant Workers and the Displaced, of the Lawyers Council of Thailand.