More than 150 villagers, mostly women and children, gathered near their ceremonial Balai shrine, located on land claimed by Baron World Trade Co Ltd, after workers moved into the area with a backhoe.
The workers began moving large rocks into place that would have prevented the villagers direct access across the land that Baron World Trade is trying to build 33 villas on, but would have left the sea gypsies unfettered access via the two-meter-wide walkway along the beachfront as ordered by Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada. (See story here.)
But by 12:40pm, the workers ceased their efforts after the mass sit-in began.
Leading members of the sea gypsy community told The Phuket News that the walkway was not wide enough. “At high tide, we would unable to use the walkway to reach the Balai shrine,” one villager said.
A delegation of officials led by Capt Sathaporn Wajrat of the Royal Thai Navy, who also serves as Deputy Director of Phuket Provincial Office of Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), arrived at 2pm to resolve the dispute.
Joining Capt Sathaporn were Phuket Vice Governor Chokdee Amornwat, Phuket Provincial Police Deputy Commander Col Saman Chainarong and Rawai Mayor Aroon Solos.
“By March 16, a 3.4m-wide walkway will be marked out so villagers can freely access their worship place and the beach,” Capt Sathaporn said.
“By this same date, a proper legal document affirming that the walkway is on public land will be issued,” he added.
In the meantime, Baron World Trade has instructed the contractor to cease work at the site and remove the backhoe, Capt Sathaporn assured.