Govt-farmer rice talks fail; farmers storm out of meeting


BANGKOK, Feb 10 – Farmer leaders today abruptly walked out of a meeting with key Cabinet members who failed to tell them when they would be paid for the rice they sold under the subsidy scheme.

The disgruntled farmers announced that state rice stockpiles nationwide would be seized, starting from the North, and the government would no longer have the legitimate authority to sell the rice acquired from farmers.

Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister/Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisarn was accompanied by three Cabinet members from the Agriculture, Commerce and Finance ministries in the meeting with farmers on the overdue payments issue.

Farmers insisted on a specific timing for the payments which, they said, have been delayed since October.

Mr Niwatthamrong said the government has successively paid to farmers during the last six months and that the payment delay was due to the House dissolution which poses restrictions on the caretaker government on spending.

He said it was also difficult for a caretaker government to borrow from financial institutions, promising that the caretaker Cabinet would be asked in its weekly meeting tomorrow to approve Bt712 million from the central fund to pay farmers.

The farmer representatives blamed the government for failing to work out preparations for rice payments before the House dissolution and negotiate with the Election Commission and financial institutions to allow the payments, leaving the burden on the farmers themselves.

They immediately left the meeting, saying they were dissatisfied with the negotiations.

Kittisak Ratanavaraha, leader of the Northern Farmers Network, said the government has now lost its legitimacy to sell the rice in the state stockpiles which will be sealed off nationwide, starting in the North today.

Protesting farmers moved back to the Commerce Ministry where they have staged a rally since the weekend.