By Chularat Saengpassa
THE sea gypsy tribe fighting to maintain its customs yesterday demanded that officials get to the bottom of who holds the rights to disputed land on Phuket’s Rawai Beach.
“We will neither withdraw our claims to the land nor accept the offers from the private firm or the local family,” said Sanit sae Sua, who represents the seafaring community
Despite threats of violence and tempting deals from parties to the conflict, the local sea gypsies insist that authorities should focus on thorough investigation, not negotiations.
Preeda Kongpaen, who sits on a committee addressing the sea gypsies’ land issues, said officials should also consider the change in the public beach area caused by breakwaters built in the wake of the tsunami disaster.
More than 1,300 sea gypsies occupy 19 rai of land in the Rawai area that has been claimed by a Thai family, the Mukdees. But the sea gypsies insist that they have lived there for generations and should have the rights to it.
Next to this disputed land is a 33-rai beachfront property that Baron World Trade Co is preparing to develop into a hotel.
However, this site was the ancient burial ground and is still a sacred ceremonial venue for the sea gypsies, who have refused to budge.
Last week, they clashed with the firm’s construction workers so violently that their case caught serious attention from the media and officials.
Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada and representatives from several agencies showed up yesterday for a meeting with all |parties.
Department of Special Investigation officials presented aerial pictures showing that the tribe has long settled in the Rawai area, while Tan Mukdee has produced documents showing his family “owned” the land inhabited by the sea gypsies.
“Our ancestors have hired their ancestors as farmhands. But now their community has grown so big that it has occupied much of our land,” Tan’s heir Jindarat Thammajak said.
The Mukdees have proposed to sell a five-rai parcel to the government at a reasonable price so that the sea-gypsy community there can be developed properly and legitimately.
Baron World Trade has floated a solution of giving half a rai of land to the locals for their community use in return for their moving their ritual site to that place.
But Sanit has said the ritual venue can’t be moved because it is a spiritual zone.
Chamroen said authorities could issue documents for a narrow beachfront area from the Tamarind Tree, where His Majesty the King met with locals, to the ritual ground to |certify it as a public area so that |sea-gypsy locals can access their spiritual zone.
He said if any party to the conflict was not happy with the yesterday’s talks, it could take their grievances to court. “But definitely, we won’t allow any use of violence,” Chamroen said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has urged all sides to coexist peacefully while officials examine the case.