Lipe’s Sea Gypsy pupils battle workers to protect their passage to school
Several young pupils from the local Sea Gipsy community on Koh Lipe in Satun province battled construction workers on Tuesday morning in a desperate attempt to protect the only passage to school which has been used since the days of their ancestors.
The pupils of the Ban Koh Lipe School in Satun gathered in front of the school on Tuesday morning when workers were building an iron fence to block the road they have been using as access to their school.
The kids from the Urak Lawoi community tried to yank the steel pipes away from the workers and several of them were slightly injured during the fight.
Several other students sat down on the road and they raised their hands to show respect to the workers and begged them to stop blocking the school’s entrance.
The tension between the school and a business tycoon, who claimed the right to the land of the passage, started on November 25 when he sent workers to build the iron fence to block the school’s entrance.
The community has earlier sought help from the provincial administration and several agencies, including the National Human Rights Commission, to save the school and community from what they called intrusions by tourism business operators on the island.
The community has even launched a campaign on Facebook, urging tourists to boycott the island as tourism operators have been blocking the sea gipsy community from access to the sea, their graveyard and public utilities and trying to evict sea gipsy families who have been living on the island without land documents since the days of their ancestors.
On Tuesday, the students told local reporters that other access to the school have been blocked so they tried to protect the only remaining passage. They said the workers have already put up an iron fence to block the school entrance so they had to climb over it into and out of the school.
They decided to fight the workers to prevent them from further reinforcing the fence to prevent students from climbing.
“We cried, we begged. We rarely slept because we had to take turns to watch over the passage. If we don’t watch it, they will come to extend the fence,” a student said.
The students said workers also hit their hands when they tried to yank away steep pipes from the workers and students turned to seek help from policemen guarding the spot to no avail.
Sukhon Pa-ah, a resident of the Urak Lawoi community, said the road, which the tycoon claimed to own, has been used by local villagers for over 100 years as a passage to school, to a local hospital and to the beach.
Earlier, the community sent an open letter to the PM’s Office to seek help and Thatchayanut Jiathanakan, secretary to PM’s Office Minister Anucha Nakasai, has visited the island.
Thatchayanut said Anucha would visit Satun to hear the complaints of local people on Wednesday and Thursday during hearings to be held at the Satun provincial administration.
The sea gipsy people in the community said they have been using the road since 1909 so they wondered why the Satun land office could issue a land document to cover the public road.
In their complaint sent to the National Human Rights Commission late last month, the Urak Lawoi people said a woman, Dara Angchotphan, somehow managed to get a NorSor3 document to claim ownership of a plot that also covers the road in 2014.
Dara then sold the land to Komsak Eiewlek, who has been trying to occupy the land and evict Urak Lawoi people, leading to legal lawsuits.
The complaint said Komsak sent his workers to erect an iron fence to block the passage that the community has been using since 1909 as access to the school, a local hospital, a graveyard and access to the sea.
Gen Surin Pikulthong, a former chairman of a committee in charge of solving problems of sea Gypsies, said the Sea Gypsies on Lipe has migrated from Koh Lanta and two other islands to live on Lipe since the reign of King Rama V. Surin said their plight began since 1974 when the government announced the national park zone over their land. Their plights were later aggravated by tycoons who turned up to claim ownership over their land.