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Junta's repression and double standards regarding forest conservation

Ugly Truth Thailand - August 5, 2018

Giles Ji Ungpakorn Three villagers in the north-east province of Chaiyapum have been given prison sentences and fines for supposedly encroaching on forest reserves.

Another woman is due to be sentenced early in August. This is all part of the military junta's so-called policy of "taking back the forests".

Previously other villagers have been sentenced to jail for collecting mushrooms in forest reserves. This contrasts with the treatment of those who have power and wealth.

A government funded housing scheme for senior judges on the forest slopes of Doi Sutep, in Chiang Mai, has caused public outrage, both for the damage to the forest, but also for the ugly scar left on the hill side. The junta has refused to stop the scheme and demolish these houses, claiming that they would face law suits from contractors.

The houses of poor villagers are often demolished by forestry officials and soldiers without any care for the effect on peoples' lives.

As previously mention on this site, encroachment of forest reserves and the shooting of protected wild life by the rich and powerful takes place with impunity.

Premchai Gunasoot, president of the Italian-Thai Development PLC (ITD) construction company, was initially arrested by forestry officials in the Tungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, in the west of Thailand, near the Burmese border. He was in possession of skinned carcasses of protected wild animals, including a black Indochinese leopard. Yet, unlike poor villagers, this rich businessman is not in prison [See https://bit.ly/2mLFh4W]. Pol Gen Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul was even photographed apparently grovelling to Premchai.

This same policeman was involved in further controversy when he warned the volunteers trying to rescue the football team from the cave that they must not break the law by trying to drill down to find an alternative access to the boys.

The military junta and previous governments have not been reluctant to grant forest land to large companies for them to exploit various resources. What has never been on the agendas of governments is the provision of housing and land for poor farmers to use.

There has been a long-running problem regarding forest reserves which were often declared in the past with no recognition of the fact that villagers were already living and working there. Apart from Thai villagers, those from ethnic minority groups are particularly vulnerable.

Over fifty years ago Thailand had a small population with large amounts of unsettled land, much of it forests. It was normal practice for villagers to move in and clear land for agricultural purposes.

Typical of any military dictatorship, the present junta's "taking back the forests" policy is carried out with a heavy hand, disregarding the needs of ordinary people.

A sensible and just way to manage Thailand's forests would be to turn them into social forests where local people have a collective and important role in managing and conserving forests together with government organisations. But the culture of officialdom dictating policy in a top-down manner is preventing this from happening. Having a military dictatorship in charge of the country only makes things worse, especially when military personnel are now in charge of every facet of public life at a local level.

Source: https://uglytruththailand.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/juntas-repression-and-double-standards-regarding-forest-conservation/.

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