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Thai landless movement

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  • Bureau of Public Secrets
    The article below, forwarded from the smygo anarchist list, doesn t mention engaged Buddhists. I assume that some are involved in this movement, but perhaps
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 20, 2002
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      The article below, forwarded from the "smygo" anarchist list, doesn't
      mention engaged Buddhists. I assume that some are involved in this movement,
      but perhaps others shy away in accordance with Thich Nhat Hanh's precept
      "Respect the property of others"?


      Ken Knabb

      Bureau of Public Secrets


      Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2002 00:31:59 -0700
      Subject: Thai Landless Movement under Attack

      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Asheville Global Report

      Squatting Thai farmers under attack

      Reports indicate that as much as 70 percent of all
      productive land in Thailand is either unused or
      Photo courtesy of CIA World Factbook

      By Teena Amrit Gill

      Lamphun, Thailand, July 10 (IPS)-- On one early morning
      toward the end of May, Sai Thong was rudely awakened to the
      sound of more than 30 policemen knocking loudly on her door
      here in this northern Thai province.

      Her mother and father were dragged out and taken straight to
      the lockup in Phae Tai village, Wiang Nong Long
      sub-district, as their fearful eight-year-old grandson
      looked on. No documents were shown, no reasons given.

      This was just one more in a recent spate of arrests and
      assassinations, which have continued right through June in
      the northern provinces of Lamphun and Chiang Mai. Over 20
      farmers have already been arrested, and during these two
      months alone there have been threats by the police to take
      in another 200.

      The reason is clear. An increasingly strong and bold
      farmers' land reform movement in the north of Thailand -
      which has systematically taken over tracts of unused, idle
      land - has threatened for the first time in decades the
      stranglehold of the rural and urban landholding elite, and
      vested political interests.

      Stretching across the provinces of Lamphun, Chiang Mai and
      Chiang Rai in the upper north, the movement has included
      land occupations in 23 farm areas by thousands of local
      villagers. In mid-June, one farmer activist involved in the
      land movement in Chiang Mai province survived an
      assassination attempt - but has since disappeared. Another
      was brutally killed. Four other assassination attempts have
      been made against other farmer leaders in recent weeks.

      "For decades now land has been concentrated in the hands of
      the rich, but for what use?" asked Serbsakun Kidnukorn of
      the Northern Farmers Assembly, a farmers' body under the
      Northern Peasants Federation (NPF) that has been organizing
      landless and poor farmers in the northern region.

      "Not only has public land, which rightfully belongs to the
      people, been sold to rich, well-connected individuals, but
      even land which should be distributed to the poor by the
      Land Reform Department has been acquired by the better-off
      through corrupt practices," Serbsakun added.

      Thailand has one of the most un-egalitarian landholding
      structures in the entire region. A 2000 study by economist
      Preecha Watanya, formerly with the Land Reform Department,
      says that while as much as 90 percent of the population own
      plots of land of less than one rai (0.16 hectares), the
      richest 10 percent own an average of 100 rai (16 hectares)
      per head. And much of this land, claim northern Thai
      activists, is encroached upon or illegally purchased by
      powerful and influential figures.

      "In the Lamphun area where there is a lot of conflict
      regarding land issues, the provincial office set up a
      committee to look into this matter and found that 80 to 90
      percent of the land had in fact been issued illegally,"
      explains Professor Anan Ganjanapan, an expert on resource
      management issues from the Regional Centre for Social
      Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai

      "No action has been taken, however," said Anan, "because the
      provincial governor wants to protect his own officials, who
      have been involved in these illegal land transactions."

      It is this lack of action by provincial authorities and the
      government's land reform scheme that drove the poor and
      landless farmers to take matters into their own hands,
      explain academics and activists.

      There are more than one million landless farmers in Thailand
      today, and close to another million agricultural families
      who do not have enough land to subsist on.

      Started in 1997 soon after the recession, the farmers' land
      reform movement decided to systematically occupy unused and
      illegal holdings of land with dubious land title documents.
      These included public lands, lands in state forest reserves,
      and watershed areas, as well as those in the state's
      agricultural land reform areas, which were purchased for
      distribution to landless farmers.

      However, even as far back as 1975 there were cases of
      farmers occupying illegally transferred land in the upper
      north of Thailand that had been abandoned or left unused.
      According to land laws, land rights can be revoked by the
      state if land is abandoned and unused for up to five or 10
      consecutive years, depending on the title in question.

      While initially dozens of families were involved in the land
      grab movement, sometimes 100 to 200 families would move
      together and occupy large areas of unused land, in a move
      reminiscent of a very successful landless workers movement
      in Brazil.

      Some of this land taken over by farmers had been bought by
      rich businesspeople for speculative purposes during the 80s
      boom period, and used as collateral to obtain loans from
      banks. Today, this unused land is controlled by these
      institutions because many clients have defaulted on their

      Thus far, some 3,798 families are part of the farmers' land
      reform movement and have put around 2,150 hectares of land
      to productive use, activists say.

      According to some experts, as much as 70 percent of all
      productive land in Thailand is either unused or

      It was under such circumstances, and with growing poverty
      due to the lack of jobs, that landless farmers like those in
      Lamphun, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces decided to do
      for themselves what a failed land reform program was meant
      to do for them.

      In early July, the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO)
      secretary-general Pisarn Kuwalairat admitted that wealthy
      farmers had disrupted the land reform program.

      "Land reform officials failed to seize land from landowners
      that illegally occupy the lands or leave them unused. The
      agency needs more time and power to negotiate with these
      landlords," he said.

      Of the some 60 million rai (9.6 million hectares) of land
      under ALRO's agricultural land reform scheme, only 20.11
      million rai (3.22 million hectares) has been allocated -
      although the program has been around for close to three

      "There is no justice for villagers like us," complains
      Sukaew Manodharm from Phae Tai village in Lamphun. "The
      landowners and the capitalists have ganged uptogether versus
      poor villagers like us, and we are not sure if we can find a
      way out of this situation."

      Villagers like Sukaew and Sai Thong, from the same area in
      Lamphun, cultivate .192 hectares per family of the 27.2
      hectares of land they have occupied. Ninety-eight families
      have been involved in this occupation movement in this area.

      "Thailand has a land reform policy," says Sen. Prateep
      Ungsongtham Hata, who recently visited some of the conflict
      areas in Lamphun province. "But it is not faithful to this.
      Instead of giving land to the poor, it gives it to the rich.
      In such as situation, I feel the farmers have the right to
      occupy this land."
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