Villagers in Mae Sot opposing the use of Article 44 to expropriate land for building an industrial estate

15 October 2015- Mae Sot Distirct, Tak Province

Villagers of ‘Kon Mae Sot Rak Tin’ [Residents of Mae Sot Love Their Hometown] group held a forum to discuss about the impacts of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s policies of Special Economic Zone [SEZ] in Tak province on local communities, and invited environmental news reporters to see the land which is subject to expropriation for building an industrial estate according to the order under Article 44 of the interim constitution.

On 15 May 2015, the Head of the NCPO and prime minister, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, invoked his power under Article 44 of the 2014 interim constitution to issue an Order No. 17/2015 on the Land Management for the Development of Special Economic Zone. One of the announced area for Special Economic Zone is Tha Sai Luad sub-district, Mae Sot District, Tak, a northern province bordering with Myanmar. According to the Order, the land in its vicinity, including reserved land, forest land and public land for common use, will be expropriated and the status of reserved land will be repealed and become state-owned property. This will involve evacuation and eviction of residents or communities in the area.

Further, according to the plan of Tak province SEZ, 813 Rais of land will be managed by industrial estate sector and 1,287 Rais will be managed by the Treasury Department, Ministry of Finance, in letting the land for private investment. There is also a plan of using 500 Rais of land for building a customs check-point at the second Thailand-Myanmar Bridge crossing the Moei River which is being constructed.

The Order of Special Economic Zone in Tak province has affected 97 families in 2 villages in the area of Tha Sai Luad sub-district because their farming and cropping land, the land that the villagers have been using for their living since 1936, is being expropriated. Additionally, the residential area surrounding the expropriated land may be affected by the operation of industrial estate in the near future.

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In the morning prior to the villagers’ forum on the SEZ, some plain-cloth military and police came to ask about the activity and were present to monitor the event until the end of the forum. There was no disruption of the forum by authorities.

During the forum, a representative of Baan Wang Tha Kien, an affected village, presented information about the community and the possible impacts on local people from land expropriation for building an industrial estate. The villagers insisted that they did not oppose the development and policy of Special Economic Zone but they would protest against the land expropriation for the purpose of building an industrial estate and without local communities’ participation in the process including no access to related information and no clear measures of compensation and remedy.

The discussion included representatives of villagers from Mae Sot District, Pobphra District and Mae Ranat District, the three districts of Tak province which were announced to be the Special Economic Zone, who shared concerns of impacts from the implementation of the policy on local people. After the forum, the villagers took a group of media and journalists to the area which is announced for land expropriation and is planned for industrial estate of Special Economic Zone.

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Previously, military and police personnel have blocked villagers’ activities to express their opinions about the Special Economic Zone. On 2 September 2015, military blocked villagers from submitting a complaint letter to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister and the NCPO’s leader, who visited Mae Sot District for meeting on the Special Economic Zone. The Anti-land expropriation villager leaders were summoned to a talk with military personnel and were requested not to assemble or display any banners when the Prime Minister visited the area for SEZs meeting. On 5 September 2015, the Commander of Naresuan Force in Tak Province organized a preparation meeting with relevant authorities prior to surveys of the SEZs during which around 30 anti-SEZs villagers approached to observe. Consequently, military officers threatened villagers that the authority would use law enforcement against villagers who show any resistance to the SEZs. On 25 September 2015, approximately 100 military and police officers blocked 28 villagers from travelling to meet a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office, who was in town for meeting on investment in Tak Provincial Special Economic Zone, for submitting a complaint. The villagers had to submit the complaint to Dhamrongtham Centre in Tak.

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