Funding to stop suspicious land grab
The government has set aside a 1.2 billion baht fund to be used to purchase land from people in the three southernmost provinces who want to leave the restive region for fear of their own safety.
The land buying programme was the initiative of Her Majesty the Queen who has expressed concern about an unusual surge of land grab by elements suspected to have links with the separatist gangs. However, the land purchased under the programme can be redeemed by the owners later on if they so wish but they have to pay a small sum of interest on top of the amounts they receive from the land sale.
The Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) is in charge of implementing the programme.
SBPAC secretary-general Pol Col Thawee Sodsong told the Isra news agency that several residents, both Muslims and Buddhists, in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat felt unsafe because of the violent incidents and wanted to move out to elsewhere which are safer until the situation at home has returned to normal.
It is not known how much land has already been sold by the leaving residents but the number of non-Muslim population in the three southernmost provinces has declined drastically to, according to an unofficial report, less than 100,000.
According to Pol Col Thawee, findings by an ad hoc committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Vichaidit to address the suspected land grab problem show that there are some 46 people, mostly Buddhists, have wanted to sell their land, mostly rubber plantations, in Pattani because they wanted to move to safer places elsewhere.
He said the group was qualified to get financial support from the programme without the need to part with their land on permanent basis. However, he noted that a more urgent problem is how to help the owners of rubber plantations or fruit orchards to harvest their crops so they will have some earnings.
Many rubber plantations and fruit orchards have been abandoned because the owners are too afraid to go there to harvest the fruits. Several who tried were either killed or wounded by suspected militants or by bobby-trapped bombs planted there.
One of those landowners was Mrs Wanpen, a resident of Bannang Sata district of Yala, who together with three other siblings, own 78 rai of rubber plantation in the district. Many of the rubber trees in the plantation have been felled by unknown elements and their house there was also torched forcing them to seek refuge in the township where they feel much safer.
Mrs Wanpen told the Isra news agency that they used to earn more than 100,000 baht a month from the rubber plantation which were shared among four of them. But they are now getting between 3,000-5,000 baht a month from the same plantation which are barely enough to make a living.
Recalling the good old days when they could still harvest the rubber latex without any fear for suspected militants, she said they could afford anything they wanted. "But now we are poorer than the people whom we used to help and who are now helping us," she said.
Regarding the government’s land-buying programme, she said she welcomed the initiative which will help them to be able to make a living.
Amidst the reported mass exodus of non-Muslims and some Muslims out of the restive region, real estate business in Pattani province was reported to be booming with several construction projects being implemented such as the Pattani Jaya project, the Pattani Place condominium project and Park View hotel project.
The contrasting trends with the exodus of mainly non-Muslims out of the region on the one hand and, on the other hand, the in-flow of fresh investments on real estate has been a puzzle for members of the security forces and the public in general.