More than 100 farmers in a northeastern province face charges on land encroachment as a result of the junta's Return the Forest policy, after the military prohibited the farmers from holding a public discussion to voice their concerns to the military government.
Laothai Nimnuan, the coordinator of Isan Farmers’ Federation of Thailand’s Northeast, told Prachatai that more than 60 military and police officers on Monday stormed into the venue planned for the public discussion on land rights and forced the organizers to cancel the meeting.
He added that the military also recorded the names of all participants and requested the police to keep track of the participants’ journeys home.
The cancelled discussion on ‘Sustainable solutions for forest and land management of the people’ was organized on Thursday along with other regional farmers’ networks to gather opinions among northeastern farmers in order to write a petition to M.L. Panadda Diskul, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The meeting took place at Ashram Ban Thai, the facility of the Isan Farmer’s Federation in Kantharawichai District of the northeastern province of Maha Sarakham, on Monday.
“We have to thank the military, even though we did not talk, we know that our brothers and sisters were motivated,” Laothai said to Prachatai.
He mentioned that the military’s measures to shut people’s mouths actually reignited people’s spirits, make them more united to fight with the junta’s unjust policies, especially the junta’s “Return the Forest” policy, and drive more people against the military regime.
Military, police officers, and civil servants stormed into Ashram Ban Thai, the facility of the Isan Farmer’s Federation in Kantharawichai District of the northeastern province of Maha Sarakham on Monday morning.
Earlier on Sunday, the military summoned Leamlek Nimnuan, advisor of the group and two other committee members of the Isan Farmers’ Federation for a discussion from the afternoon until 8 pm. The military told him they if he did not comply, he would be arrested.
Although the meeting was cancelled, Laothai and other leaders of the federation concluded that currently there are 103 farmers in Isan facing charges and that 1,764 warrants have been issued against farmers. If the junta continues to implement its policy to return the forest, 5-6 million rai of land (about 2,370,000 acres) will be reclaimed and about 30,000 people will be affected.
The Isan Farmers’ Federation has summed up the following demands to the junta:
1. Stop intimidating, arresting, and evicting people who have been living off the land and allow them to continue utilising the land
2. Temporarily halt impending legal cases against farmers and allow the cases to be investigated by the National Human Rights Commission, the Lawyers Council, and Office of the Ombudsman.
3. Provide compensation for farmers whose homesteads and farmlands have been destroyed according to the loss and allow them to continue using the land.
4. If the state wants to protect the forest, then the government should arrest investors and new land encroachers. Moreover, state projects and concessions for mining and building dams in forest areas should be cancelled and revoked.
5. Review the implementation of Orders 64/2014 and 66/2014 to protect the forest until changes are made.