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Civil society groups are urging the junta to halt construction of Special Economic Zone (SEZs) throughout the country, saying that the SEZ policy destroys local communities and the environment.

On 27 September 2016, at the Community Organisations Development Institute (CODI), Bangkok, 18 civil society groups from across the country submitted a joint letter titled ‘Voices from People in Special Economic Zones’ to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, Araicha Khaewnobparath, a citizen journalist reported.

Reading the letter, Wichitra Senta, a representative of people from 11 SEZs, urged the junta leader to halt the construction of SEZs in many provinces along the country’s borders.

She argued that people should be allowed to participate in the decision-making process in SEZ development projects and that they should be based on the principles of sustainable development.

She added that the SEZ Policy Committee should also think of the capacity and suitability of each locality before the start of SEZ construction in order to optimise the benefits of the SEZs for local people.

At a similar forum on 26 September at CODI, Pornpana Kuaycharoen, Director of the Land Watch Working Group, said that the use of Section 44 of the Interim Constitution to authorise the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Order 17/2015 to turn large areas along the country’s borders into SEZs has affected many local communities, Green News TV reported.

The order has led to the eviction of many local people in areas scheduled for SEZ construction despite the fact that many of them possess Land Utilisation Certificates (NS2 and NS3) and the Land Claim Certificates (SK1) for plots in the area, said Pornpana.

Somnuk Tumsupap, Director of the Human Rights Law Study and Development Centre, said that the NCPO Order on SEZs exempted them from six laws on land use, making it easier for investors to lease land to the cost of local communities and the environment.

In a move to stimulate a lethargic Thai economy, the junta leader in May 2015 invoked his authority under Section 44, which gives the junta absolute power, to announce NCPO Order No. 17/2015.

The order mandates turning large areas in Tak, Mukdahan, Nong Khai, Sa Kaeo and Trat provinces, bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, into Special Economic Zones (SEZs), where deregulation of industry and tax cuts are offered to lure investors.

In addition to the pilot SEZ projects in these five provinces, more land in five other provinces, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, Kanchanaburi, Songkhla, and Narathiwat, are to be expropriated and cleared for SEZs.

Many communities in areas which have now been declared as SEZs are currently facing eviction.  In the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom, as many as 400 families in At Samat Subdistrict of Mueang District are to be evicted in the name of an SEZ project.

The gate of the planned Special Economic Zone of Nakhon Phanom next to the Customs Centre at the base of the Third Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge

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