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Chinatown residents fight project near temple

May 11. 2012
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By The Nation

Residents of Bangkok's Chinatown will gather on May 21 to show their opposition to a plan to develop a hotel and shopping complex right next to the area's most famous Chinese temple, Wat Leng Noei Yi.

Built more than a century ago, this outstanding temple attracts huge numbers of people each year. It is particularly crowded during the Chinese New Year festival.

“We plan to stage a peaceful march to show our pure power,” temple board member Pisitchanon Niwattanakul said yesterday. He is also the director of Mangkorn Kamalawas School, which is located in the temple’s compound.

Mangkorn Kamalawas is the Thai name of Leng Noei Yi.

The temple’s abbot said Leng Noei Yi’s surroundings should not be altered.

“An adjacent building should serve an educational purpose or be designed to honour the Royals, rather than serving as a hotel and shopping complex,” the senior monk said.

On a plot right next to the temple is a building once used as a tea parlour. This plot belongs to the Office of the Privy Purse, which has offered it for lease.

Pisitchanon said the community around the temple was one of Bangkok’s oldest. Excessive Westernisation should not be allowed, he said.

“The values within people’s hearts may not be tangible, but they count,” he said.

Another Leng Noei Yi board member, Suthi Jintananareumit, said he did not believe that the development project in the adjacent building would be limited to a shopping complex.

“I don’t believe the investors’ claims. When they see the opposition, they will try to disguise their real intentions,” he said.

Suthi said the Lawyers Council of Thailand stepped in to help petition against the modification of the adjacent building, which continues despite an April 10 order by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Public Works Department banning the use of the building.

“We are considering filing a petition with the Central Administrative Court,” Suthi said.

Associate Professor Srisak Wallipodo said he saw the opening of a hotel next to Leng Noei Yi as a violation of the community’s rights.

“Please don’t forget that locals have lived here for generations. The community has been here for more than a century,” he said.

He believes the country’s laws do not yet fully recognise the community’s rights.

Pom Prab District Office public works chief Prapassorn Kularb said authorities would enforce the law, but when it came to the matter of what was appropriate, it was hard to say.

“If the project developer has proceeded in line with the laws, the district office won’t be able to stop this project. If you are going to highlight ethical issues, then other agencies must be invited to consider the matter,” he said.

Suthi said the temple was prepared to negotiate and might offer compensation for damages caused if the project were forced to stop.


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