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Arrests Fail to Slow Theft of Phuket Forest Land

Monday, June 8, 2009
PHUKET'S native forests are shrinking fast because of encroachment and officials fear that even the arrests of 10 trespassers will not stop the stealing.

Worst case of all is the Bang Kanun forest, where officials say 500 rai of parkland has now been reduced to 300 rai by land poachers.

With available land along the coast all sold or for purchase only at extremely high prices, the attention of land thieves is focussed primarily on protected mangroves and national parks.

The potential for theft was highlighted recently by the discovery of an illegal quay that stretches for 200 metres by 15 metres over a stretch of coastland at Ao Por, on Phuket's east coast.

But as Deputy Governor Smith Palawatwichai says, this is just one extreme example of encroachment.

In other places, hundreds of small farmers have nibbled away at prime but protected land, reducing the 40 percent of Phuket that is supposed to be a natural sanctuary.

This is why the Governor, Wichai Praisa-nob, has made land recovery and protection a priority of his administration.

Kamala is considered to be one of the areas worst-hit by the ''space invaders.'' Thalang is another, says the vice governor.

Island officials are now redoubling their efforts to expose existing land poachers and prevent more parkland theft.

Estimates vary, but the 40 percent that was originally set aside for greenery is now said to have diminished by as much as half.

All administrations have been asked to redouble their protective measures and to plant more replacement mangroves and trees where possible.

In Bang Kanun, there have 10 arrests for encroachment, with more to follow.

Jaroun Suwanjarean, head of the coordination center for Phuket forests, says another 70 cases are now being pursued, and that more are to come.

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