Forest land clash heads to courtroom

The land encroachment problem at Sirinat National Park in Phuket has pitched two state agencies into a legal conflict.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation is threatening to sue the Lands Department in the Central Administrative Court for illegally issuing title deeds for the park land.

Chief of the National Park Office Samak Donnapee accused the Land Department of giving inaccurate information when it told a press conference last week that of the 23 land encroachment cases at Sirinat National Park, only five involved illegally issued title deeds.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation will submit a letter to the Lands Department to affirm the land with title deeds issued for all 23 encroachment cases was inside the park.

The department claimed the encroachment cases involved up to 2,700 rai of park land which has been mostly turned into luxury hotels to serve tourism.

The department would ask the Central Administrative Court to order the Land Department to revoke those title deeds, Mr Samak said.

“I will file a complaint against the Land Department with the court for illegally issuing title deeds for the encroached land. I understand legal action by one state office against another is unusual. But I will do it to protect the forest,” he said.

The National Park Office head insisted encroachment into Sirinat park has taken place more recently, in the past 10 years.

In the case of Rayan Phuket resort, which the department has accused of encroaching on the park land, the people who occupied the land have presented a Sor Kor 1 document which is a form of land title to the authority. The document showed it was issued in 1953, which was at odds with the national park department’s satellite image in 1954 which showed no trace of human settlement in that area.

The image in 1967 showed fruit orchards on the land where Rayan Phuket resort is located at present. It was only in 2002 that buildings and communities began to crop up.

Sirinat was declared a park in 1981 after being included as part of Khao Luak-Khao Muang national forest reserve by the Royal Forest Department in 1964.

Mr Samak claimed the Land Department had continued to issue land titles to some encroachers even though they had admitted to the Department of National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation they had encroached on the park land.

The department could do nothing unless the Land Department revoked those land titles, he said.

The Land Department insisted last week it was investigating the complaints by the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation about the 23 land encroachment cases.

It said the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation could bring the case to court if it felt unhappy with the way the Land Department handled the cases.

Meanwhile, authorities have seized more than 700 rai of forest land in three forest reserves in Phu Rua district of Loei.

A combined team of soldiers, police, national park officials and local officials yesterday seized 10 encroached land plots in Phu Rua, Phu Pluea and Phu Khithao national forest reserves in northeastern Loei, covering a total of 787 rai.

The team was led by Loei governor Viroj Jivarangsan, Maj Gen Thetsanarit Kasibut, deputy chief of Loei’s Internal Security Operations Command and Col Sommai Bussaba, a member of the 2nd Army’s legal team.

The team found several resort houses built on those plots. Various fruit trees were planted in the areas, with signposts saying the areas were under a royally initiated tree planting project, said a source.

Officials believed the signposts were made by those forest encroachers themselves to prevent authorities from inspecting the areas.

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