Thailand: land rights activists targeted by palm oil company

Villagers of Khlong Sai Pattana Community. The banner reads: ‘We will stand for justice to protect land to the end. Stop evicting the poor. The Khlong Sai people will fight'.
Andrew Metheven

Since 2008, the Klong Sai Pattana community in Thailand have been resisting the encroachment of a large palm oil company - Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co Ltd. The company has illegally occupied and cultivated palm oil trees, and the community believes it is behind escalating violence that has led to a number of deaths, in a campaign of intimidation they believe is being waged to drive them from the land.

The community has used a right under the 1997 constitution that grants the right to access information about land holdings – the campaigners were able to uncover murky land deals, or evidence of companies continuing to use land under expired concessions. They gathered evidence of land encroachment and trespass, and in 2005 the company was sued by the Agricultural Land Reform Organisation (ALRO), a government agency, after community activists reported the case.

The ALRO won the case in 2007, and in 2008 the community established the Klong Sai Pattana community on a 26-hectare part of the land with the government's consent, building houses and growing crops. A network of farmers and human rights activists was also formally established, called the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT). In 2010 Thailand's government passed a regulation called the “Issuance of Community Land Title Deeds”, and the community has expected to receive a land title, but they are yet to receive any land use documents.

The company repeatedly appealed the court decision, and in 2014 the Supreme Court handed down a final decision, ordering the company to leave the land it is illegally occupying. No action was taken to enforce the decision, and since the community was established several members have been killed, in a campaign of violence they believe is intended to drive them from the land. Prateep Rakangthong moved into the village in 2008, and described to Al Jazeera what it was like: "The first month I moved here, I could hear gunfire every night. They were firing bullets into our village at night-time."

Deaths followed. In 2010, Somporn Pattaphum was shot, becoming the first fatal victim of the violence. Villagers have described the company using tractors to try and demolish villagers' homes, and in 2012 two women were found shot dead just a few minutes from the entrance of the village. In 2015, Chai Bungtonglek was found shot outside his family home, and there have been other incidents of violent harassment, including other attempted murders. No one has been convicted or jailed for the murders, and the ALRO now claims that both the company and the villagers are occupying the land illegally, claiming that the villagers are “dependents” of the company.

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