The protesters read out their demands by Government House yesterday before they were signed in acknowledgement by government figures. Credit: NDF

Bangkloi protesters head back home

The initial deal has been reached and helped settle the negotiation and protest against the governments’ reaction to Bangkloi villagers’ occupational land rights conflict in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Petchaburi province, paving the way for a more serious talks to resolve the conflict this Friday

The memorandum of understanding has been handed to the representatives of Bangkloi Karen protesters who had camped by Government House since Monday.

The MOU was signed by three protester representatives and four government figures including Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa and Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow, in his capacity as a vice chair of the government’s panel on problem solving for the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), representing the poor with land rights problem.

The two sides agreed on three immediate demands made by the protesters; withdrawing currently deployed force in Bangkloi Lang and Pong Luek villages, removing checkpoints and ceasing interception against food supplies sent to some villagers who had fled to their controversial ancestral land of Bangkloi Bon and Jai Pandin deep in the forest, and dropping legal threats against some ten protester leaders who were presented during the previous protest in front of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry on February 5.

They also agreed to forge a collaboration between the government’s representatives, the villager’s networks, as well as academics, in seeking truth and proposing solutions to the villagers’ occupational land rights conflict, their quality of life, and sustainable natural resources management in the area.

The protesters claimed this could pave the way for possible solutions to six prime demands by the villagers. These include allowing Bangkloi villagers to go back to their ancestral land and make a living there with occupational land rights approved, ceasing use of force or possible violence against the villagers who have fled to the land uphill and removing checkpoints and patrolling force seen as intimidation against the villagers downhill, and ceasing intercepting supplies sent to the villagers uphill.

Their demands also include requesting the government and concerned agencies to follow the 2010 Cabinet Resolution to stop arresting Karens in the area and provide protection to their rotational farming area, allocating land plots for those who wish to make a living downhill, and ceasing deployment of joint forces in the villages seen as intimidation against the villagers, while providing them safety.

Following the agreements, the villagers started to pack their belongings and headed back home this morning.

A youngster from Bangkloi, Phongsak Tonnampetch, who had joined the two-day protest told the Northern Development Foundation, which helps campaign in support of the villagers’ plights, that he felt relieved although it seemed that the government had succumbed to the villagers’ pressure.

“However, it’s not clear yet whether the authorities would follow what have been agreed. We need to wait and see. If there is no progress on the agreement, we will step up our protest, coming back here again. We are ready,” said Phongsak.

Reignited conflict

In mid-last month, a group of Bangkloi Bon (Upper Bangkloi) and Jai Pandin descendants, said to be between 40-60 persons, had fled from the resettlement villages of Bangkloi Lang and Pong Luek dowhill to their ancestral land uphill, claiming they had faced hardship caused by the lack of farmland and Covid-19.

As the news broke, sympathies and campaigns to save Bang Kloi (villagers) then flooded into the communities before spreading out in the society, prompting heated debates and reigniting the long-time occupational land rights conflict in the area as their ancestral land was judged by the top administrative court in 2018 as being unlawfully valid for occupation.

Their representatives and Karen networks, forming into a new group of Save Bangkloi, decided to submit a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on February 5 whereas P-Move was trying to strike a deal with the ministry.

Scuffles broke between the protesters and the police, prompting ten protest leaders to be summoned for illegal gathering in public area.

At the villages, checkpoints were set up over the weekend, and more stringent checks on passengers travelling in and out were undertaken along with some patrolling. Interceptions against food supplies sent to the villagers uphill were also reported.

These incidents heightened dissatisfaction among the villagers, prompting them and their networks to call for a new round of protest at Government House on Monday.

The ministry is due to hold a meeting with their representatives this Friday to work out possible solutions for this long-time problem. (Read: Bangkloi Saga)

Read more of Bangkloi Saga @bkktribune.com