Samae San chief leads 100 in protest of navy land seizure

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100 residents of Sattahip’s Samae San Sub-district, including the mayor, demonstrate outside Pattaya Provincial Court over the military’s repossession of land they’ve occupied for a century.
100 residents of Sattahip’s Samae San Sub-district, including the mayor, demonstrate outside Pattaya Provincial Court over the military’s repossession of land they’ve occupied for a century.

The mayor of Sattahip’s Samae San Sub-district took the unusual step of defying the government’s protest ban by leading 100 local residents to demonstrate outside Pattaya Provincial Court over the military’s repossession of land they’ve occupied for a century.

Prasert Pitakorn and the residents have sued the Royal Thai Navy and Treasury Department to give up their claim on a 1,900-rai parcel of land they claim belongs to the Royal Household Bureau within 30 days. The case, originally filed by 128 residents, has grown to 300 petitioners.

The case began in March 2016 when about 100 Samae San families applied with the navy to rent “Sor Por Kor” property repossessed by the military for violating rules of the scandal-plagued land-reform program.

The residents, who comprise more than a third of all the families in the Samae San village of Nongkajong, filled out applications to rent the property from the Real Estate Division of the Sattahip Naval Base, which spearheaded the effort to take back the government land.

Prasert said the land is home to 2,500 families with 6,400 people, some of whom have been inhabiting the land since 1917, long before the Sor Por Kor program came into being. It is an established community, with a village headman, schools, temples and more. Now, he said, the navy and Treasury Department are trying to take it all away.

The Sor Por Kor land-reform program was begun with the intent of giving poor farmers plots of land they could use rent-free for up to 30 years to grow crops and become self-sufficient in line with HM the late King’s “sufficiency economy” philosophy. However, the program quickly was corrupted by wealthy investors and influential local figures, who often conned or extorted farmers to gain control of the real estate for commercial development.

Such has been the case in Samae San, said Capt. Atikom Laohakul, deputy director of the Real Estate Division, who said last year that local Sor Por Kor 1 land has been illegally used for resorts, restaurants and commercial construction that actually expanded beyond boundaries of the land-reform parcels to encroach on state land in hillsides and beaches.

The navy told Samae San residents they would have to register and begin paying rent. The applications must be reviewed by the Treasury Department. In cases where continued possession of the Sor Por Kor land is rejected, the residents past use of the land can be used as collateral for loans to build new properties on private land.

Prasert’s high-profile role in leading a public demonstration runs counter to the military government’s ban on gatherings of more than five people.