Thailand’s northerners, northeasterners urge junta to abandon ‘return forest’ policy

Thailand’s northeasterners and a northern ethnic minority group who have been affected by the junta’s forest protection policies urged national human rights agencies to take action in cancelling the junta’s policies and allowing more public participation in forest management.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the committee of rights on land and forest resources from 19-20 March organised a public forum on people’s sustainable forest and land management in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.

At the forum, about 100 representatives of civil society groups of Thailand’s Northeast Region urged Niran Pitakwatchara, a NHRC commissioner and resource rights committee member to suggest to the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) that it nullify its Order 64/2014.

In June 2014, the junta issued Order No. 64/2014 to protect and increase national forest cover. The order mandates severe legal action against encroachers into protected areas and poachers of illegal forest goods. Nonetheless, according to the junta’s Order No. 66/2014, the poor and people who settled in protected areas prior to the enactment of Order 64/2014 shall not be affected.

The group recommended that the policies should be replaced by policies that encourage the establishment of community forests, which would allow communities to protect and utilise resources from the forests sustainably at the same time.

Moreover, the government should establish clear ‘zoning’ in order to demarcate protected areas which overlap with settlement areas, the group added.

According to Pramote Ponpinyo, the coordinator of the Land Reform Network of Isan (LRNI), since the junta’s forest protection policies were enacted, many marginalised communities in the region have been affected by the continuous efforts of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and the Royal Forestry Department personnel to evict people from protected areas.

He pointed out that the current forest protection policies of the junta constitute the monopolisation of natural resources by the state.  This is similar to the forest protection plan of 1992, which faced widespread public opposition and had to be withdrawn.

Santiphap Siriwattanapaiboon, an academic from the Science Faculty of Rajabhat University in northeastern Ubon Ratchathani Province added at the forum that centralised state policies on resource management could only fail because they were formulated without local participation and a clear understanding the local environment and cultures.  

At a similar forum held in the northern province of Chiang Mai last week, an ethnic minority group in northern Thailand submitted a letter to Niran in order to point out that the junta’s forest protection policies harm their livelihoods.

According to the group, on 26 November 2014, about 50 officers from the Royal Forestry Department arrested a 26 years-old Lisu tribesman in Ban Huay San of Mueang District in Chiang Rai Province under the junta’s Order No. 64/2014 for possessing illegal logs.

The tribesman claimed that he in fact inherited the logs from his father to build a new house. However, he had to submit 30,000 baht bail after his arrest, the group added in the statement.

In another case, officers of Si Lanna National Park in Mae Taeng District of northern Chiang Mai Province on 17 February confiscated a plot of land which was occupied by a Lisu tribesman. The authorities claimed that the tribesman had encroached on a protected area. However, the man said that he had utilised the land plot for 25 years.

According to the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) of the Northeast, since last year, 103 small-scale farmers have already been accused of encroaching on protected areas and almost 1,800 people in the Northeast have now been prohibited from using their farmland and are about to receive court summons for alleged encroachment.

NGO-COD added that if this trend is allowed to continue, approximately 1.2 million people who are living on land that overlaps protected areas could be affected.

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”