New Service Helps Landowners Affected by Thailand’s Southern Insurgency

By Nasueroh
2015.08.03
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150803-TH-landowner-620 Saikhim Siriporn (seated), a landowner and former resident of Ban Buesu, a village in southern Thailand’s Yala province, poses with officials during a visit to the village, July 3, 2015.
BenarNews

Thailand has opened a bureau in its southern border provinces to assist people who have had to leave their land because of insecurity stemming from a regional insurgency.

The new service, known as the Land, Assets and Livelihood Assistance Office (LALAO), was established in early June. It works under the auspices of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center, or SBPAC, which oversees efforts aimed at restoring peace in the region.

“This issue goes back three years, when the cabinet had a policy to provide assistance to those who were afraid to continue living in areas where they had landholdings, which they formerly depended upon for their livelihoods, and instead decided to move their families elsewhere,” SBPAC Deputy Director Piya Kijthavorn told BenarNews.

“SBPAC Secretary-General Panu Uthairat saw the need to help those in need as soon as possible, so he ordered the establishment of LALAO in the southern border provinces to accomplish this.”

More than 6,000 people have been killed since 2004 in separatist-related violence gripping Thailand’s predominantly Muslim Deep South.

Unrest cuts into livelihoods

Surveys confirm that migration and land-use changes have occurred in the region since the violence flared up in early 2004.

Actual migration figures are difficult to pinpoint because many people leave during periods of heightened tension, then return when the security situation is thought to have improved.

Most Buddhists and Muslims living in insurgency-affected areas have maintained the ability to practice their religion and traditional ways of life, according to SBPAC research.

A key finding, however, was the high degree to which the unrest affected people’s ability to keep pursuing normal livelihoods.

“Our village used to have equal numbers of Thai Buddhists and Malay Muslims living together, but since the unrest began many families have vacated their homes,” Mayakee Saraya, assistant chief of Ban Buesu Village 6, in Yala province, told BenarNews.

“Most of them moved to the provincial capital district and hired third parties to come in and work the rubber plantations for them.”

“The families that moved away never come back,” he said. “Many families have also arranged for army personnel stationed in the area to look after their plantations for them.”

“It is a sad situation. Some of the families also have problems with the workers not paying them as agreed. This is yet another source of hardship. Having a state agency come in and help might help to solve problems, at least in the initial stages,” Mayakee added.

Over the years, many of these villagers have contacted SBPAC asking if it would rent or purchase their properties. But SBPAC has no mechanism or legal right to conduct such transactions, SBPAC official Kitti Saengpongchawal explained.

Instead, the center has ordered each province to set up a LALAO Operations Center in every district to assist landowners who abandon their land, or to bring in third parties to cultivate it.

Mediation

Since the Yala-headquartered center opened in early June, it has received 247 requests involving a total area of 3712 rai (593 hectares or 1,468 acres).

It recently resolved a case filed by petitioner Saikhim Siriporn. She owns a 56-rai (8-hectare or 22-acre) rubber plantation in Yala’s Bannang Sata, the district that had the highest number of reported insurgency-related incidents of violence in 2014, according to the Deep South Watch monitoring group.

“She complained that her workers were not splitting profits fairly with her,” Assistant District Officer Arthit Koong-ooy, who oversees assistance efforts in Bannang Sata, told BenarNews.

“As she was also concerned for her safety, SBPAC first arranged a meeting between her and the district chief to discuss ways to assist in solving the problem. Then district officials and volunteer security forces escorted her to the plantation, where they had arranged a meeting between her and her workers to discuss the issue and find a solution,” Arthit added.

With state officials acting as mediator, both sides were able to work out a compromise, he said.

Saikhim’s land is in Ban Buesu village. She had lived there since her birth and her family owned 3,000 rubber as well as fruit trees. But after the insurgency broke out more than a decade ago, she moved her family out of the area because they no longer felt safe there.

“I left the plantation operation in the hands of one of my workers, who got help from some of my neighbors’ workers. For the first five years, he delivered my share as usual, but after that something went awry. I wasn’t getting my fair share,” she told BenarNews.

The new assistance program helped her to solve the problem after she took her complaint to the SBPAC, she said.

Another local who abandoned her 80-rai (12-hectare or 32-acre) rubber plantation in the same village, leaving it in the hands of workers, gave her name only as “Wanpen.”

“In the past I tried numerous times to find a way of selling my land back to the state on a consignment basis, but they never accommodated me,” she told BenarNews.

“We really want to sell the land back to the state, but the state has no policy about this. On behalf of my family and many of our neighboring families who are suffering similar hardships up to this day, I would like the current government to help solve problems faced by Thai Buddhists in this area.”

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