Gen Khunawat’s plea for peace came after a closed-door meeting with Phuket officials at Provincial Hall to discuss the dispute on Thursday (June 9), one day before the Phuket Provincial Court began hearing the claims from both parties in the hope of resolving the dispute on Friday (June 10).
“Local officials have already discussed with Baron World Trade Co and come to an understanding with them that they should rely on communication not confrontation with villagers,” he said.
The ongoing dispute with Baron World Trade is over land where the sea gypsies’ sacred Balai shrine is located. Tensions flared on May 25, when more than 200 sea gypsy villagers confronted 50 workers who arrived with a backhoe and began moving boulders into place to block access to the sea gypsies’ sacred Balai shrine, which sits on part of the disputed land.
The confrontation escalated into clashes, with workers and sea gypsies throwing rocks at each other for 30 minutes. The rock fight stopped when Chalong Police arrived with more than 50 officials.
Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada has made repeated calls for peace, his latest as recently as May 31 after 200 sea gypsies gathered at the site after hearing rumours that Baron World Trade workers were to return to work. (See story here.)
“We’ll let the court decide how they want to solve this land dispute issue between villagers and Baron World Trade. I have also ordered the police to be fair to both parties when investigating the complaints that each party has filed against each other,” Governor Chamroen said.
“This land dispute is very complicated, so both parties must avoid using violence in the hope of ending the issue. No one is above the law,” he added.
Regarding the separate disputes between sea gypsies and 13 non-sea gypsies who the court has already upheld their claims to plots within the sea gypsy village, Gov Chamroen said that his office has done as much as they can to resolve the dispute.
“We have reached our conclusion at this point. The 13 landowners are willing to sell the land to government,” he said.
“I have already submitted a request with the central government about the proposal. We are waiting for government to decide.”
That update, however, showed no progress since February, when Gov Chamroen explained that his office was still waiting for the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to respond to an official request to buy the 19 rai in dispute for B253 million.
If the buyout proposal fails, Gov Chamroen has arranged for the sea gyspies affected to move to a 45-rai site in Rassada, north of Phuket Town, that has no direct access to the sea. (See story here.)
“I want justice for sea gypsy villagers and I wish this issue were easy to fix, but the area in dispute is complicated because it involve the right of land ownership, legal land documents and encroachment, so the best way to deal with this is to have the government buy the land and develop a better community for the villagers,” Gov Chamroen said.
Scores of sea gypsies waited outside the meeting on Friday with a letter to hand to Fourth Army Region Deputy Commander Maj Gen Khunawat.
However, they were disappointed when the Army general left Provincial Hall without receiving the letter.