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DSI Director-General, Police Colonel Tawee Sodsong

Phuket Titles Probe: DSI to Open Island Office

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
LAND encroachment investigation on Phuket is set to be island-based, high-tech and transparent once the Department of Special Investigations opens its first provincial office early next year.

The Bangkok-based DSI is branching out and Phuket has been chosen as the place that needs titles police on the spot.

At a meeting with the Governor yesterday, DSI Director-General Police Colonel Tawee Sodsong announced that he has asked island police commander Apirak Hongthong for space in the new Phuket police station on Yaowarat Road, which is set to open early next year.

Some 25 DSI staff are now being trained on land title issues on Phuket, he said. These officials will also educate local people on land registration rights and laws.

Chanote title documents for the entire island are now in the DSI's possession, he said.

If the DSI Phuket unit proves to be a success, more offices will open around the country.

First on the agenda for the Phuket DSI centre will be further investigation into 10 cases that allege land encroachment, mostly in mangrove forest areas.

These cases cover more than 200 rai of land worth 10 billion baht, Colonel Tawee said.

It is difficult to gather information on such issues, he said, because in many cases the land has changed ownership several times over the years and original title documents had been lost.

The centre will have satellite images of Phuket so people can see clearly which land is designated with SorPorKor (agriculture) titles and which land is under control of the Forestry Department, Colonel Tawee said.

He plans to display present satellite images and those from 10 years ago, he said, to make it easier for people to check on land rights.

Copies of these maps will be sent to all local government departments such as municipal (Tessaban), sub-district (OrBorTor) and provincial (OrBorJor) offices and made available for public viewing.

As well, DSI progress on the 10 cases under investigation will posted on a board at the new office, to make it easier for local people to follow, he said.

Colonel Tawee said the DSI was investigating claims that a marina proposed for construction on Cape Yamu could kill sea grass, an essential food source for the endangered dugong.

The environmental assessment and the effects of the proposed construction on the land itself were being checked, he said.

Also under investigation was a condominium project on 136 rai in Kathu, Khun Tawee said.

The DSI has received complaints from the abbot of a temple and a village head (phu yai baan) about alleged encroachment on temple land.

Governor Dr Preecha Ruangjan said the DSI should have come to Phuket about 30 years ago, but "better late than never".

Colonel Tawee said that Phuket people should be more like their neighbours in Phang Nga province, where people were very strong about protecting their land rights.

Phuket land scandals over the years have had a level of intrigue and danger that would inspire the most imaginative novelist.

In April 2003, Phuket Land Office deputy chief Pongtorn Hiranyaburana was shot and killed by assassins while driving his car to Surat Thani.

Khun Pongtorn had been investigating questionable land titles and was believed to be on the verge of making a breakthrough on some cases shortly before his death.

His murder remains unsolved.

In 2001, environmental activist Jurin Rachapol died after being shot three times.

In the months before his death he had been publicly opposed to a prawn farm being built on mangrove forest land.

Another activist opposing the same project, Siripoj Cheechang, survived being run down by a pick-up truck in late 2000.

The driver of the truck was charged with attempted murder, and in May 2001 prawn farm owner Somsak Wongsawanond was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder Khun Jurin.

Phuket land scandals also played a part in bringing down Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai and his Democrat-led government in 1995 when it was discovered that large tracts of SorPorKor land had been granted to wealthy Phuket families.

SorPorKor titles were created in a land reform program that was intended to give poor, landless farmers access to state land for agricultural use.

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