PHUKET: The battle to save Phuket's beaches took a fresh turn today when Bang Tao residents united to save stolen public shorefront.
The piece of land in dispute is just one small part of a larger section of Bang Tao foreshore that appears to encroach on the public sands.
The action by about 70 Bang Tao residents today could be repeated at other beaches if Phuket residents assert their rights.
Inspired by their success in going public recently about the polluted waters of Bang Tao canal, residents today sought to reclaim a well-known corner property bordering the waterway.
People driving past will know the spot well. Since the 2004 tsunami, when the bungalow on the site was several damaged, the wrecked clay-colored building has stood as an unofficial tsunami memorial.
Now it's a battleground for local rights.
Today Bang Tao residents explained the history of the freshly- controversial one-rai piece of real estate.
About 20 years ago, Rungsak Poonsin bought the land from Surin ChooCher. On the land he built holiday bungalows. It was a charming site, overlooking the canal and facing the Andaman Sea.
But on December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the Phuket and Andaman coastline, killing 5400 residents and tourists, among them some in the bungalows.
On March 29, 2005, Khun Rungsak was compensated for his property loss by the Thai Government.
Subsequently, he signed over the land to the Cherng Talay council on condition that it be for public use.
The local council reacted the way most of Phuket's shorefront councils would react if there was nothing in it for them: it did nothing.
Now a new ''owner'' has emerged. Somsak Mingpijarana, who says he has been operating a small business from the shorefront property, is now claiming the whole one rai.
Council officials, stung into action, now say that they've had several offers for the property since the tsunami, with as much as 10 million baht being put on the table.
Today residents demanded a clear ruling from the local council that the landmark property belongs to the public and cannot be sold or developed for private enterprise.
This afternoon the protesting residents split into two, with one group heading to the offices of Cherng Talay Mayor Ma-Ann Samran and the other group going in the direction of the Cherng Talay Police Station.
There, they will produce all the documents that chart the property's history and insist that action be taken against Khun Somsak for falsely claiming the land.