Farmers end protests on payment vow

Ang Thong rice farmers agreed to temporarily call off their protest yesterday after the caretaker government promised to pay them delayed funds for pledged rice by Friday.

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The agreement was passed on by provincial governor Pawin Chamniprasat to about 300 farmers after the group blocked the Asian Highway in Muang district.

Mr Pawin said the caretaker government is seeking a loan for the rice payments, since it was decided that such borrowing was unconstitutional.

The constitution prohibits a caretaker government from undertaking projects that will pass on a debt burden to the next government.

The government cannot reveal the name of the bank offering the loan, in case protesters stage a rally there, Mr Pawin said.

The farmers vowed to take to the streets again this Saturday if the Yingluck Shinawatra government cannot keep its promise.

Her government has failed to meet deadlines to pay farmers nationwide for pledged rice several times.

The rice-pledging scheme is a Pheu Thai Party policy where rice is bought at 40-50% above global market prices.

Payment delays infuriated farmers in many provinces, and last week they blocked roads in protest.

In Buri Ram, rice farmers from Lam Plai Mat and nearby districts rallied at a poll station in Constituency 4 yesterday to protest against Sunday's general election.

Instead of spending the 3.8-billion-baht election budget, the caretaker government should use the money to settle the debt owed to farmers, they said.

In Buri Ram alone, 5,000 farmers are waiting for more than 4 billion baht.

The farmers, who also blocked part of Highway No.226 yesterday, threatened to step up their protest if the government failed to solve the problem.

Rice farmers have also asked the Lawyers Council of Thailand to sue the government for the overdue payments, plus 7.5% interest.

Many farmers, including those in Kamphaeng Phet, have begun handing invoices to the council for use as evidence in the lawsuit.

The invoices are given to farmers after they pledge their paddy with the government.

The documents promise the government will pay money through the farmers' saving accounts at the state-backed bank.

However, the farmers have waited for the money for four months to no avail, which has forced many of them to turn to loan sharks, Kamphaeng Phet farmer network chairman Dokchik Naeohan said.

The government owes farmers a total of 130 billion baht.

Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong will release details this week of how the government will obtain its loan to pay farmers.

All farmers should receive outstanding funds within one month, Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach said.

Buyers who did deals with the government to buy pledged rice stocks have recently paid a 7 billion baht installment, he added.

The amount of pledged paddy now stands at nearly 11 million tonnes, sources say.

Though the government claimed most of the rice stock has been sold, many critics question if the deals really took place, as the government is reluctant to release commercial details.

As soon as the caretaker government's loan is approved, they must speed up payments to the troubled farmers, Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said.

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