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Prime Minister hands out seized land to poor farmers

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha presided over a ceremony in Northern Thailand in which plots of forest land seized by the government from illegal encroachers were given to landless families.  The Prime Minister used the authority provided for under Article 44 of the interim constitution to donate the land, as government representatives briefed the diplomatic corps on the Article and how the Prime Minister would use it.
 
The Prime Minister handed out land use permits to several families among the 1,235 families who would be allowed to use over 2,879 acres in the Khun Mae Ta forest reserve in Chiang Mai province that had been illegally encroached upon by others. The landless families are allowed to farm or use the plots, but are not permitted to sell the land.
 
Illegal encroachment, forest degradation and landlessness are intertwined issues that have challenged a succession of Thai governments for decades.  Despite having large tracts of protected forest areas, forest cover diminished rapidly during the last century.  While the majority of forest loss was due to expanded agriculture and industrial development, a significant portion was the result of illegal encroachment and development.
 
Furthermore, poverty among landless farmers is generally higher than among farmers who own their own land, as landless farmers must rent the land they use, which eats into their earnings.  Some estimates are that Thailand has over half a million landless farmers.
 
The land given to people in Tambon Mae Tha was the first phase of the government’s allocation project.  The first phase will distribute 21,230 acres in six areas in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Chumpon provinces.   A second phase will transfer 20,531 acres in eight areas in Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, Lampang, Uttaradit, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Yasothon and Ubon Ratchathani provinces.
 
The families initially chosen to receive the land in Chiang Mai were from among those who had been living and using land in the area for at least 20 years.  They would be allowed to use the plots as a community forest in which they can plant and forage for food and other resources without causing severe degradation. In essence, they are custodians of the land and the forest.
 
The land hand-out was one of the few times the Prime Minister has used Article 44 of the interim constitution.  The article allows General Prayut to use his power in issuing orders on specific measures to promote reform, unity and reconciliation and prevent actions undermining peace, national security and the economy.  He has said he will use that power to speed up Thailand’s compliance with international aviation safety standards, which would otherwise take over a year.
 
The article has raised concerns and criticism from civil society groups who fear it may be abused.  To ease those concerns, ministers and military officials briefed the foreign diplomatic corps at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week.
 
“When we imposed martial law, we did it cautiously and constructively. We always understand and respect human rights issues,” said Colonel Winthai Suvaree of the National Council for Peace and Order. 
 
See the original article at Thailand Focus

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