Agriculture Minister Capt Thamanat firecely defended his attempt to resolve the dispute during the House session yesterday. Credit: PR Parliament

Capt Thamanat declines his acknowledgement of Land Policy Board’s warnings on land dispute at Khao Yai

The Agriculture Minister did not directly respond to the question directed to him by the Lower House’s Standing Committing on Land and Natural Resources chair, saying he had not yet entered into office at the Agriculture Ministry at the time when the agricultural reform land irregularity took place in the disputed land patch. The NLPB sent the warning letters to Alro a few months after he was in the office, however

Agriculture Minister Capt Thamanat Prompow showed up during the Lower House’s session today to respond to questions filed to ministers by MPs to keep their work in check. Chair of the House Standing Committee on Land, Natural Resources, and Environment Apichart Sirisoonthorn directed three prime inquiries on the ongoing dispute over overlapping boundaries between Khao Yai National Park under the DNP and agricultural reform land under Alro to him to answer. 

Alro (Agricultural Land Reform Office) has laid claims over 33,000 rai of what looks like the forest patch, some of which have already turned into allocated land plots, while the DNP claims at least 3,000 rai in the same area, which are located in Khao Yai, have been encroached upon by Alro.

Mr. Apichart asked him about the legal status of the map freshly reproduced s by the Royal Thai Survery Department (RTSD) following the PM’s order to prove the overlapping boundaries over the contesting area, but he did not directly respond to it, saying the map was just to help cool down the conflict between both sides but cannot end the issue. 

The map is heavily questioned by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) as the RTSD based it on the DNP’s field book seen as just an initial record of land surveys, not exact boundary markers shown on the map endorsed in the Royal Decree that designated Khao Yai in 1962. The RTSD claimed during the recent meetings of Mr. Apichart’s committee when being called in to clarify the matter that it could not find the original wooden markers in the areas to start with. 

The RTSD reported to the Prime Minister, Mr. Srettha Thavisin, that the overlapping patch claimed by both sides in Haew Pla Kang in Tambon Moosi was not in Khao Yai National Park, but in Alro’s reform land.

Its report was earlier quoted by the Agriculture Minister to try to end the dispute. This exploded in mid-February, when the DNP’s National Parks Office Director, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, led his forest officials to remove over 20 markers found in the area, insisting that it’s Khao Yai’s territory and nobody could encroach upon it as it’s a national park. 

Some political experts interpreted that the PM’s order and the RTSD’s map were not mandatory as they did not pass through an official problem-solving structure of the National Land Policy Board (NLPB), chaired by the PM himself. The fact-finding was eventually called upon again. The two agencies and their ministries temporarily agreed on Monday to prove the point together through the NLPB’s process of One Map.

Mr. Thamanat conceded that the issue did not end at the RTSD’s map, saying; “Yes, it’s not over yet and we have agreed to work together through the fresh agreements and MOU made between us,” said Capt Thamanat.

Capt Thamanat was further asked whether he had acknowledged that the DNP had issued a warning to the Alro provincial office in Nakhon Ratchasima province twice last October. The NLPB office even sent a letter to the Alro Secretary-General twice as well in November and December, citing unsettled disputes in the same area.

Capt Thamanat just explained that the markers were hastily placed in the area in July, based on his ministry’s fact-finding probe. At that time, he had not entered the office at the ministry yet as the new coalition government was just being formed and not yet settled.

The new government entered the office in late September, and shortly after that, in early October, Capt Thamanat was in charge of Alro and gave it a new directive to change land use rights certificates for Alro land to “land deeds for agriculture”, citing the reason that this could help improve land security among the recipients who are poor farmers and need access to finance. Under his new policy, which was pushed to back the government’s flagship policy to increase security on land among the citizens, several Alro’s regulations were also amended to facilitate the policy, including the definition of “farmers” who are eligible to Alro land use rights.

The Agriculture Minister did not directly respond to Mr. Apichart’s question. Asked what he planned to do next to solve the problem, he said; “One Map.” Throughout the House’s session, under which he fiercely defended his attempt to resolve the dispute, Capt Thamanat tried to assure that any irregularities over the disputed land would be cleared and corrupt officials would be “get rid of”. He called them “crooks”, apparently teasing, before apologising and withdrawing the word.

The Committee’s meeting on Wednesday. Credit: The Standing Committee on Land, Natural Resources, and Environment

Unanswered questions

The Standing Committee have held such a meeting twice since late last month to examine the case to see what went wrong, but as it revealed after the meetings, its questions were barely answered. For stance, there was no clear answer as to why the RTSD based its newly produced map on the DNP’s field book, why the Alro provincial office has never opposed the DNP’s boundary when the issue was first brought to the NLPB’s consideration of the unsettled disputes there. It even conceded that there were some irregularities involved in the process of boundary marking in the area.

The Committee also wondered why Alro rushed to do the work just last year despite the area was claimed to have been designated as Alro land under another Royal Decree issued several years back in 1991.

The Committee’s second meeting on Wednesday was even more troubled as the RSTD was in a verbal exchange with Mr. Chaiwat, who insisted on the DNP’s map. Capt Thamanat and the Environment Minister were also invited to attend but they both declined to show up in this meeting. Alro officials were all absent.

Mr. Thamanat said he decided not to attend the Committee’s meeting on Wednesday because he did not want to explain things closed doors but preferred to do so in Parliament, where his explanations will be broadcast nationwide to the people. The Committee eventually decided to wrap up the meeting, saying it would submit a letter calling on the NLPB to call all concerned parties in to prove the boundary line together next week.

| The DNP convened a meeting yesterday with its senior officials nationwide to make an understanding of the MOU. Credit: DNP

The new MOU

To try to settle the dispute, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry have intervened and agreed to issue a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to guide the two agencies’ practices. (Read: One Map be used to settle dispute over overlapping boundaries between national parks and agricultural reform land)

They agreed to resolve the issue at Khao Yai through One Map mechanisms under the NLPB within two months. Second, concerned agencies supervising the country’s forest areas must prepare and submit their shape files and identify overlapping boundaries and territories to Alro, along with potential wildlife corridors, buffer zones, forest areas planned for future designations, and last but not least, forest land plots within the protected forests authorised for utilisation under forest laws.

Third, they will collaborate with Alro through new panels set up by Alro to help its land allocation work to ensure that this will not overlap with their responsible areas in the future. Last but not least, another set of working groups will be set up within concerned agencies to act as their focal points for information exchange.

DNP Chief Athapol Charoenshunsa said he has already issued an order to assign his officials nationwide to start the work assigned under the MOU and the DNP is ready to work with Alro. His deputy cheif Weera Khunchaiyaraksa was appointed to be in charge of the work.