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Phuket sea gypsies call for return of land leased to Mai Khao hotel

PHOTO: Flickr/Brian Jeffery Beggerly

The Chao Ley, or sea gypsy community, in northern Phuket is petitioning officials to return ancestral land that has been leased to a hotel on Mai Khao Beach. They have been joined by a group of local activists, with representative Orawan Hanthaleh expressing concern about the alleged encroachment.

The group is calling on provincial officials and MPs from the Move Forward Party, who won all 3 Phuket constituencies in the May 14 general election, to join them in taking action. Orawan says the leasing of the land is having a negative impact on local heritage and the sea turtle population, whose habitat is under threat.

According to a Bangkok Post report, the group has submitted a petition to Phuket’s deputy governor, and the three Move Forward MPs.

The area in question had a barbed wire fence erected around it earlier this year, with officials confirming it was public land that had been leased to a hotel. Activists say that in addition to being a sacred ritual site for the Chao Ley, it’s an area used by the local community to make a living from fishing, and is also where sea turtles lay their eggs.

The activists are demanding that officials investigate the matter by taking a series of steps. First, they want the provincial governor to investigate the permit granted to the unnamed hotel and to order the property to remove the fence and refrain from using the land until the matter has been resolved.

Next, the Finance Ministry, which is responsible for how public land is used, must suspend the lease of the land to the hotel and the Culture Ministry must declare it a protected area for the preservation of indigenous cultures. The group says from there, the media and the general public has a responsibility to monitor the area to prevent a land grab from taking place.

Orawan says that if the matter is not resolved within 15 days, the group plans to take its protest to Bangkok.

Deputy provincial governor Anuphap has responded to say the Thalang district office and local treasury office is being approached for more information on the land and its use.

Somchart says the issue will be raised in parliament, where the relevant ministries will be asked to explain the situation.

Meanwhile, Poonsak has confirmed the land is culturally sensitive and any potential construction plans would have to pass an environmental impact assessment.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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