By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
RAWAI BEACH villagers have warned they will relocate to Government House if they do not get secure housing and the right to practise their beliefs.
Around 30 local aboriginal Malay Urak Lawoi and Moken people, colloquially known as “sea gypsies”, from Phuket went to Government House yesterday to submit a petition to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon. The petition seeks help in solving a land dispute between their community and private land owners.
Group leader Sanit Saezua said there were few options for the Rawai residents, who have been assaulted and threatened several times during the protracted land conflict.
“We are all uncomfortable about the situation. Previously, there were only talks but nothing has been done to help us. We will stay here [in Bangkok] until there is a solution for us to have a secure habitat and rights to practise our beliefs freely,” Sanit said.
“If we don’t have a secure home, we may have to live here at Government House because [at Rawai Beach] even small children and the elderly were beaten,” he said.
Preeda Khongpan, a lawyer for the group, said they had also sent a petition to the Culture Ministry pushing for the creation of a cultural protection zone around their community, a proposal that has been stalled since 2010.
The residents petitioned the government to tackle the problem in three ways. First, Preeda said the petition requested the deputy PM to empower the land-dispute committee working on the issue to have full authority under his supervision.
Second, the group demanded the Lands Department revoke the private owner’s land deed for the disputed 19-rai (3-hectare) plot within one month. The petition claims the Department of Special Investigation has already proven the land was wrongfully registered.
Last, they asked the government to authorise the committee to investigate another deed held by the Baron World Trade Company for another disputed 33-rai plot of land.
General Surin Pikulthong, head of the land-dispute committee, said efforts to tackle the land disputes had not progressed well because relevant agencies had taken little action.
“The Lands Department was negligent in revoking the land deed. There may have to be a lawsuit in order to make them take action,” Surin said.
“The police investigation to find the thugs who harmed local people is still slow,” he added. “Even though they know the local politician allegedly behind the operation.”
Pol Lieutenant Thammasak Wijaraya, the deputy PM’s representative, said the group of residents should be reassured because he would take the problem to Prawit and he asked them not to travel to Bangkok again.
“The government is trying to solve the problem, while I will pursue the police and local authorities to look after the issue. Soldiers will take care of the security,” Thammasak said.
Another 300 sea people also gathered at the Phuket City Hall to wait for a response from the government.