No land, no fish: Mekong community in northeast Thailand struggles against a double-threat

Global Voices –

Ubon Ratchathani locals in northeast Thailand are wondering why they are being prosecuted for farming on land passed on to them by their parents.

“If I lost my land, I would want to die. I wouldn’t want to live,” said 50-year-old Rit Chansuk, his voice quivering with emotion as he looks over the two-rai plot of land (0.32 hectare) he is about to lose.

Rit is one of several villagers accused of encroaching land in Pha Taem National Park in Ubon Ratchathani. He was born in the mountainous area known for its ancient rock art and cliffs above the Mekong before it was declared a national park in 1991.

In 2014, the military junta under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ordered that forest areas be reclaimed from encroachers in a push to increase the country’s forest cover by 40 percent or more than 27.2 million rai (4.35 million hectares). From that point until September last year, people in more than 28,000 cases have been prosecuted for forest encroachment, covering a total area of almost 820,000 rai (131,200 hectares).

Across the northeast, several forest communities are resisting eviction from land that they claim has been theirs for generations.

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