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Posts from the ‘Baw Kaew’ Category

Eviction on the Horizon for Chaiyaphum Community

2014 September 1
by The Isaan Record
Baw Kaew villagers recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of their community’s re-establishment. Standing in front of their eviction notice, villagers intend to continue to fight peacefully for their land.  Photo credit: Wilder Nicholson, Bowdoin College

Baw Kaew villagers recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of their community’s re-establishment. Standing in front of their eviction notice, villagers intend to continue to fight peacefully for their land.
Photo credit: Wilder Nicholson, Bowdoin College

CHAIYAPHUM—As part of the military government’s new forestry policy, the 277 residents of Baw Kaew village in Khon San District received a thirty-day eviction notice on August 26.

The notice, issued by the Forest Industry Organization (FIO), cited Order 64/2557 of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seized power in May. The order instructs government agencies to eliminate deforestation and incursion on forest reserves nationwide.

After villagers were originally removed from the Samphaknam Mountain Reserve Forest in 1978 by the FIO, the area was replanted with eucalyptus trees, used primarily in the paper pulp industry.

Sixty-four households returned to the Khon San Forest Project in 2009 to re-establish a village. Their protest of FIO policy highlights the plight of thousands in the Northeast and throughout Thailand facing eviction.

The community had been actively involved in working with a community land title scheme under the Abhisit and Yingluck administrations.

In the few days following the eviction notice, the villagers from Baw Kaew have submitted petition letters to six organizations, including the NCPO, the Secretary of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), the Chaiyaphum Provincial Governor, and the Commander of the Second Regional Army. More than eighty-percent of residents signed the petition, which calls for a cancellation of the eviction notice and for recognition of the community’s right to their land.

In July, the military used threats and arbitrary arrest to evict more than a thousand villagers in Buri Ram province. International human rights NGOs at the time voiced concern at the worrying trend. The Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, condemned the evictions.

“Instead of resolving a land issue through legal means, the military is using its wide-reaching martial law powers to bludgeon human rights protections,” he said in a statement released on July 19.

There is no compensation or assistance for relocation available to those facing eviction. If the villagers choose to stay when their thirty-day notice has passed, they will likely face arrest.

Baw Kaew villagers claim this is the third eviction threat they have received since 2009.

Community members have no intention of leaving the land they believe is rightfully theirs, and plan to engage in nonviolent protests to fight eviction.

While the country is under martial law, it is unclear whether protests will be tolerated by the military government.

Among those who established Baw Kaew in 2009, Suwan Daiphukieow, a woman in her sixties, says, “Where should I go? I have nowhere to go. I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing for as long as I can.”

Suwan Daiphukieow has lived in the Khon San Forest Project area for over sixty years, five of which have been in Baw Kaew.  Photo credit: Emma Tran, Tulane University

Suwan Daiphukieow has lived in the Khon San Forest Project area for over sixty years.
Photo credit: Emma Tran, Tulane University

Ms. Suwan has no family or friends outside of the area to turn to.

“I am quite scared, but I don’t know what to do because we have no other land,” she continued. “If they want us to leave, they must find us a place to live.”

Pramote Phonphinyo, adviser to the Land Reform Network of the Northeast, states that villagers may have evidence that could help prove they own the land. Even with the evidence, there is no guarantee that villagers will be permitted to stay. He says their future remains uncertain.

Mr. Pramote estimates that as many as fifty communities across the Northeast are vulnerable to the military’s new eviction policy.

 

On September 25 families who have lived in the Khon San Forest` for generations are scheduled to be forcibly removed. Photo credit: Wilder Nicholson, Bowdoin College

On September 25 families who have lived in the Khon San Forest for generations are scheduled to be forcibly removed.
Photo credit: Wilder Nicholson, Bowdoin College

 

On August 26 the FIO posted eviction notices on villagers’ homes, citing NCPO Order 64/ 2557.  Photo credit: Kate Cowie-Haskell, University of Rochester

On August 26 the FIO posted eviction notices on villagers’ homes, citing NCPO Order 64/ 2557.
Photo credit: Kate Cowie-Haskell, University of Rochester

 

Emma Tran is an undergraduate at Tulane University and Jenny Dunn is an undergraduate at the University of Washington-Seattle. Both study International Studies and are presently studying at the Council Study Center at Khon Kaen University.

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Protest Village Celebrates Second Anniversary

2011 July 20
by The Isaan Record

Sunday's forum brought together NGOs, activists, and politicians to discuss Baw Kaew's future.Baw Kaew's greenhouse is one of many sustainability efforts.Their seed bank carries 122 seed varieties of rice, vegetables, and fruit trees.Villagers now sell goods made from locally grown cotton.
BawKaewForum

Sunday's forum brought together NGOs, activists, and politicians to discuss Baw Kaew's future.

BawKaewGreenhouse

Baw Kaew's greenhouse is one of many sustainability efforts.

BawKaewSeedBank2

Their seed bank carries 122 seed varieties of rice, vegetables, and fruit trees.

BawKaewCotton

Villagers now sell goods made from locally grown cotton.

CHAIYAPHUM – The sound of mor lam music, traditional to Northeast Thailand, filled the air last Saturday evening as Khon San villagers and friends gathered to celebrate the second anniversary of the founding of Baw Kaew village.

In the past two years, Baw Kaew villagers have developed their community, seen success in their battle for a legal land lease, and established sustainable agricultural practices, all amidst a eucalyptus plantation owned by the Forest Industry Organization (FIO). The celebration weekend culminated on Sunday in a forum for various NGOs, activists, and politicians to speak to the challenges of addressing land reform disputes.

Baw Kaew was established on July 17th, 2009, 31 years after the state-owned FIO evicted more than 1,000 villagers from 4,401 rai of land to begin the Khon San Forest Project. By the late 1980s, the FIO had cleared the land in order to plant a eucalyptus plantation.

After decades of unsuccessful protests for the right to return to their former land in Khon San, 169 displaced families decided to take a new approach. Aided by the Land Reform Network of Thailand (LRNT), these families illegally resettled in Khon San Forest, founding Baw Kaew as a protest village. Rather than only spend their time in front of government buildings, villagers believed they could also stage their protest directly on the land they used to call home.

Their efforts have been met with both new obstacles and successes. One month after they founded the village, 31 residents were charged with trespassing on state-owned land. By April 2010, the court had ruled that villagers needed to move out.

However, this past fall, Baw Kaew villagers began to see progress. The Working Committee on Community Land Deeds, set up under the Abhisit administration, approved 35 villages to pursue community land deeds, including Baw Kaew. So far, only two communities have been granted deeds, which leaves Baw Kaew and 32 other villages still on the slow path to gaining legal access to the land they currently occupy.

In Sunday’s forum, Prayong Doklamyai of the Northern Development Foundation emphasized the gravity of land rights disputes in forests across Thailand. “There are about 10 million Thais in state forests that cover around 20 million rai of land. This is a time bomb waiting to explode,” he said. Mr Prayong believes that while there has been an improvement in the policy of the last government, implementation has not followed suit.

In response, Secretary to the Prime Minister’s office Phubet Jantanimi insisted that the government is doing the best it can. “The government has already agreed to give the land to the people [of Baw Kaew]. But the government can only ask for the cooperation [of the FIO], it cannot give a direct order,” he said.

This has led to confusion and frustration among Baw Kaew villagers. While the Working Committee on Community Land Deeds has encouraged villagers and the FIO to resolve their problems, the central government says it does not have the authority to enforce state-owned agencies to follow its mandate. This year, the committee ordered the FIO and the government to survey the land that Baw Kaew has requested. But until the FIO agrees to relinquish the land, villagers are left waiting with little control over the timeline or outcome.

Mr. Pramote of the Isaan Land Reform Network, however, does not believe the government is powerless to end FIO projects. He claims the government pays the FIO approximately 1.2 billion baht, or about $40 million per year. “If the government is sincere and has the courage, it can force the eucalyptus forest to be abolished. It has already happened in other areas,” he stated.

As community members wait for the FIO to cede the land, villagers have moved away from only fighting for legal tenure and are now developing the sustainability of their community.

According to Mr. Pramote, the current eucalyptus plantation is not sustainable.  “Since the eucalyptus trees grow really fast, they draw a lot of nutrients from the soil,” he explained.

In order to combat the negative environmental impacts and restore the soil, farmers have been planting local vegetables and herbs between the uniform rows of eucalyptus trees. In May of this year, the community also established a local seed bank in their village. They hope that it will help preserve their local knowledge and prepare them to cultivate the land once a land deed is granted.

Though Baw Kaew villagers’ strategy now focuses on developing  a sustainable community, their options are limited without a concession from the FIO. Until the eucalyptus trees come down, villagers will continue to live in protest for their former land.

Land Dispute Lands Eleven in Jail

2011 July 7
by The Isaan Record

CHAIYAPHUM – Eleven men and women from Khon San district were placed under arrest this past Friday morning for trespassing on disputed land in the Khon San Forest Preserve. At dawn on July 1, over 100 black-uniformed and heavily armed officers from the Royal Forestry Department (RFD), the Forest Industry Organization (FIO), and the local police force entered Khok Yao village and herded community members into the back of police vans.

The arrests come almost four months after the Abhisit administration’s March 9 decision to suspend judicial action against villagers living on disputed land.

“I thought they were going to survey the forest as usual,” said arrested Khok Yao villager Den Kamlae of the authorities’ early morning caravan. “They surrounded us and asked us to leave. I wondered, ‘Why? Why do we have to leave our land?’ I showed them the negotiation documents [from March 9] and the officers said, ‘Those are useless.’”

When asked to comment, Prathip Silpathet, Chief Officer of Khon San dictrict’s Sheriff’s Office and the official who ordered the arrests, said that he knew nothing about the March 9 agreement.

Friday’s confrontation stems from a decades-old land dispute between villagers who claim an ancestral right to the property and the state-run FIO, which currently operates a eucalyptus plantation on the land.

It was in 1986 that the military anachronistically designated the land surrounding Khok Yao a “pink zone” – an area under imminent threat of a communist insurgency – and ordered all of its inhabitants to leave. Within a year, however, when the FIO started planting eucalyptus trees in Khok Yao’s cornfields and the communist threat never materialized, the villagers felt that they had been swindled. None of them were ever compensated for the land that they had lost.

Though the late 1990s saw the Khok Yao diaspora try and fail to get their land back through a direct petition of the provincial government, it was not until 2005 that their most recent attempt started to gain some traction. It was then that newly-elected community leader Sawai Chulalani got in touch with the Isaan Land Reform Network, a regional branch of the nationwide Land Reform Network of Thailand. With the Isaan Land Reform Network’s support, the villagers of Khok Yao began to navigate Bangkok’s often opaque land tenure policies and slowly started to move back onto their land.

Then, on November 30, 2010, after years of campaigning by the Land Reform Network, 35 villages throughout the country got permission from the Prime Minister’s Office to move back onto their ancestral land. Though Khok Yao was not among this group of villages (nearby Baw Kaew, however, was), its leadership saw this decision as a liberalization of the central government’s land policies. After the March 9 agreement, Khok Yao filed for a land deed and villagers began to move back in earnest.

Whereas the suspension of judicial proceedings against villagers living on disputed land marked one small step forward for the Land Reform Network, Friday’s arrests are most certainly two steps back.

“I’m quite worried about [the arrests],” Mr. Sawai said not twelve hours after his neighbors had been released on bail. “If the problem can’t be solved soon, I think there could be serious clashes between villagers and the authorities.”

But further conflict may still be avoided. On June 24, the Land Reform Network met with numerous national political parties to explain the problems facing the hundreds of thousands of people affected by land rights issues. Eleven parties, including Sunday’s election winner Pheu Thai, signed an agreement to help solve their problems. “If they don’t follow their promise,” said Mr. Mote, a Secretary of the Isaan Land Reform Network, “then we’ll start our next campaign.”

Ministers Discuss Land Deed with Chaiyaphum Protest Villagers

2011 March 10
by The Isaan Record

Baw Kaew March 10 Meeting

BAW KAEW VILLAGE, CHAIYAPHUM—Officials from the office of the Prime Minister traveled to Baw Kaew protest village yesterday morning to meet with villagers and Forest Industry Organization (FIO) members about their overlapping claims to 1,500 rai of land in Kon San Forest.

Today marked a small victory in a 33-year uphill battle for Baw Kaew villagers as government officials finally described the potential boundaries of the Community Land Deed that the villagers have long pursued.

Their battle began in 1978 when the state owned FIO declared ownership over 4,401 rai for a eucalyptus plantation known as the Kon San Forest Project. With little warning, the commercial forestry developers ordered the eviction of more than 1,000 inhabitants. Though some remained in their homes, almost all lost the land their families had been farming for generations.

Through decades of disorganized protests, dispersed villagers struggled to make their voices heard. Then, in early 2009, 100 farmers banded together with the Land Reform Network of Thailand (LRNT), an NGO dedicated to helping communities fight for land rights. With the increased leadership and political affiliations of the organization, the farmers could reel in support from across nine different FIO-displaced villages.

That July, with the help of the LRNT, 169 families illegally resettled in Kon San forest and founded the Baw Kaew protest village to call attention to their cause. Since then, they have been petitioning for a Community Land Deed entitling them to share 1,500 rai, a fraction of the total land they had lost. Yesterday’s gathering offered them a glimpse of success.

“I’m pleased with today’s meeting,” said Poon Ponsuwan, a leader of the Baw Kaew community. “We hope to get the land deed within the month.”

However, the villagers may still have a long battle ahead of them. Phaithoon Seerord, the Head of the Working Committee on Community Land Deeds, encouraged the FIO and villagers to resolve their differences, but acknowledged that the timeline for the land deed is still unknown.

“The FIO can be an obstacle because they aren’t giving the land to the farmers. It isn’t possible for us to overrule the FIO, but we can ask them to help by changing their policies,” Phaithoon told reporters.

In order for the Community Land Deed to move forward, the FIO must agree to give up the land. An FIO representative present at the meeting stated that the matter would be discussed with the leaders of the organization and that they would report back to the villagers soon.

Only one day after a month-long land rights rally in Bangkok concluded, Baw Kaew villagers expressed mixed expectations. Many inhabitants were pleased with the ministers’ presence and believed it was a sign of official recognition of their rights.

“This is the first time that people from the government have come here. Before that, the FIO never spoke with us. This is the first signal of hope,” said Nulek, a 48 year-old farmer with three children in school.

Yet others are still hesitant to celebrate. Ang Dechasaroong, 60, said, “I’m happy but I don’t have a lot of confidence. I’m tired of hearing them talk.”