By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
More than 60 police and territorial defence volunteers were deployed, as the company sent a team of construction workers to the disputed land. Around 100 people from the sea gypsy community blocked the entrance to the land, as they feared the company would cut off a communal path to the sea people’s sacred shrine.
The sea people’s community leader, Ngim Damrongkaset, said workers for the firm showed up in the morning with police without prior notice and tried to enter the disputed land. “We are sure they [intended] to block the community way through the land to our shrine and the beach, as earlier a group of men from the company attacked the villagers and tried to block the entrance to our holy ground,” Ngim said.
He said people in the community came out to prevent the company entering the area, while police and defence volunteers guarded the area.
The disputed site covers 33 rai of seaside land, which has the sea gypsies’ shrine and cemetery. The sea people claim ownership of this plot, saying they have lived there for hundreds of years. The company says it has a legal land deed for the plot.
“My brother told me the police will arrest people who stand against the company’s move, but as of now in the area they still don’t threaten the people – just stand watching,” Ngim said.
He said the community had asked the Army to send troops to protect the sea people, but they refused, saying they could not help without a request from the province. And when the people tried to contact the Phuket governor, there was no reply.
Pol Col Noppadon Thiraprawat, the superintendent of Chalong Police, confirmed that they had been asked by the province to provide security for the company men, as they would need to enter the land to grade the area.
“We are just providing security and preventing clashes between two groups,” Noppadon said.
A reporter tried to contact Baron World Trade, but the company representative refused to give information on this issue, saying company executives would not allow it.
The conflict over this land at Rawai Beach has dragged on for decades. The sea gypsies claim the land they have lived on for generations was registered unlawfully.
In February, talks were arranged between two groups to try to find a solution to the issue. However, a mutual agreement has yet to be reached.
The company had offered half a rai of land to be a communal area and to relocate the shrine, but the sea people refused and called for the Department of Special Investigation to review the history of land-use of the block. The sea people also went to Bangkok to submit pleas to the National Human Rights Commission and other official agencies to help them with this issue.