“We are giving Mr Anucha 20 days to find a solution to the land dispute. If he fails, the villagers will travel to Bangkok,” a banner warned on one of about 30 coastal fishing boats anchored off the island to greet a visit by Prime Minister’s Office Minister Anucha Nakasai yesterday (Dec 15).
Mr Anucha was on the island off Muang district in Satun to try and settle the row between about 1,000 Urak Lawoi people and the holder of Nor Sor 3 title to blocks of land the Urak Lawoi have lived on for generations, reports the Bangkok Post.
The issue came to light on Nov 25 when the landowner erected a steel gate across the route the sea nomads have used since 1909. Children use the path to go to Ban Koh Lipe School, and others to go to Koh Lipe Health Promotion Hospital, to the sea, cemeteries and markets on the island.
Students climb over the gate to go to school, but the barrier poses problems for other people, especially the elderly, wanting to go outside their home compound.
“This small road is used by people, from seniors to children, from the day they are born until they die,” Saengsom Harnthale, a teacher at Ban Koh Lipe School, who is an Urak Lawoi, told Thai PBS on Wednesday.
Some sea gypsies in the area have also been sued by the landowner for trespassing, according to Chumchon Thai, a non-government organisation monitoring the issue.
The islanders, activists and the National Human Rights Commission have urged the government to urgently step in to investigate why the landowner was able to obtain title to the land where the Urak Lawoi have lived for decades.
“The state should have looked into the issue and solved it, instead of letting it go this far,” said Banjong Nasae of the southern chapter of the Non-Government Organisation Coordinating Committee on Development.
Mr Anucha promised talks with the landowner to find a solution to the problem, so both sides could benefit from land development. “The government will ensure justice for the people on Lipe,” he said in a statement released by Government House.