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Red shirted protesters at the Yao Yai gathering

Andaman Communities Join Protest Movement

Wednesday, December 24, 2008
THE PEOPLE who live on the islands off Phuket's east coast and Phang Nga's west coast now work together to ward off unwanted developments.

A new airport for Phang Nga and the potential closure of Chalong Bay to allow marine life to recover are just two of the cases now in dispute.

About 200 representatives from villages all over the region met recently on Koh Yao Yai, and some of the methods used to combat unwanted developments were on display.

With widespread awareness now that the islands are desirable for villas and resorts, the traditional residents have formed their own ''resistance movement'' to preserve the environment and their way of life.

Future expansion by property developers into the islands will need to take account of the views of these communities or risk having the projects rejected by authorities.

At the Koh Yao Yai meeting in the village of Baan Yamee, arriving participants were greeted by locals at the pier, and by banners and posters.

Later, at the meeting point, red protest tee-shirts were on display, along with a donation box.

The latest row on the islands concerns a development on Yao Yai where the project company, having met resistance to plans for a marina and villas, is now taking court action against the villagers.

Over the next two days, participants at the gathering see the proposed marina site, and the beach hillside land where the developers want the villas.

They talk long into the night about how to coordiate an approach that will stop both projects for good.

The marina project has already been stopped by Phang Nga provincial authorities after checking the paperwork.

This is not just a one-off meeting. The network of regional villagers meets three times a year, with local groups meeting much more often. Legal advisers attend most meetings.

Among the key groups involved is the Andaman Project for Participatory Restoration of Natural Resources (ARR), which has a staff of 13 and a budget that comes through contributions from sources as diverse as banks, Oxfam, the Asia Foundation and a concrete maker.

Next year, though, the project will have to seek funding all over again.

The coordiantor of ARR, Tanu Nabnean, is based on Phuket. He told Phuketwan that the organisation stretched across Phang Nga and Krabi, too.

Fisheries groups throughout the region also meet regularly, so ARR builds awareness at those meetings of other issues that spring from environmental concerns.

''Everybody on the coast and the islands has a connection with the sea,'' he said. ''It's the most important resource.

''Everybody is conscious of the connections between the communities, and how one problem in one area can eventually cause problems everywhere.''

Local people at the two-day gathering told Phuketwan there were four main problems at present. They are:

Nam Khem, a fishing village in Phang Nga: A plan to broaden the roadway to the village and a bridge across to the island of Koh Kor Kao to link travellers to an airport is considered to be against the best interests of locals. The proposed roadway would be eight lanes wide. A mangrove area would be placed at risk. Locals have protested to local government officials, who say the government owns the land. The project has been stopped to preserve the mangroves. Private developers, moving north from Phuket, have begun looking at Nam Khem as a potential site for projects.

Tabtawan beach, in Bang Muang, Phang Nga: A resort is planned on the beach. But the resort, like a proposed shrimp farm in the same area, is opposed by local villagers. Eight familes were dispossessed after the the tsunami when a private developer claimed the land. The families continue to live nearby but want to move back to where they were living. An old tin mine that was under licence is also in dispute. The resort company, run by a well-known family with wide holdings in Phang Nga, also has a business in Phuket. Government officials have been hesitant to offer support to locals.

Chalong, in southern Phuket: Waste water and pollution flow into the sea from developments, but the problem was being reduced slowly. Oil leaks were also damaging the environment and making fish inedible. Chalong and Rawai have been designated for a water recycling program but the budget has yet to be approved. One of the radical proposals being considered is to close the bays in the area to all boating so the marine life can recover.

Baan Kuku, in Phuket City: A private company has shown interest in building a coastal resort but the mangroves would be put at risk. About 800 rai to 900 rai are part of a national forest zone. Local people who have lived in the area for a long time without a land title are fighting their case. The first they learned of the project was when a backhoe arrived and began digging. The local administration did not talk to local residents, either. The dispute is now with the Bangkok Land Titles Office. Aerial photographs cast into doubt the company's assertion that the area is a coconut plantation, not mangroves. The dispute may proceed in the courts next year.

Village Chiefs Deciding Islands' Future
Traditional village leaders with the power to approve or reject multi million dollar projects are meeting on an island off Phuket. Here's what has influenced their thinking so far.
Village Chiefs Deciding Islands' Future

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