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14 Injured As Police Stop Surat Thani Land Protest

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The Nation:

14 injured as police stop Surat Thani land protest

Police yesterday broke up a 3,000-strong demonstration by landless people who had occupied a palm-oil plantation for more than two weeks, arresting 1,000 and injuring 14 in the process.

Armed with shotguns, batons and tear gas, more than 1,000 police from several districts confronted the demonstrators at the 1,600-rai Thaksin Palms plantation in Khiri Ratthanikhom.

The protesters had occupied the plantation since April 25. It is understood they believed they could acquire land on the plantation.

Hours-long negotiations in the morning failed to disperse the squatters. Police then physically removed the crowd.

Of the 14 injured seven were women. One person was shot after police said he attempted to run over officers with a pickup.

Eight police suffered cuts from sharp implements carried by demonstrators.

Two officers and one protester required surgery at Khiri Ratthanikhom Hospital.

Cars, motorcycles, computers, power generators and other appliances believed to belong to protesters were confiscated. Shelters were dismantled.

Surat Thai Provincial Court issued warrants for the arrest of six people suspected of being demonstration leaders.

Police Region Eight deputy commander Maj-General Santhan Chayanont said all involved would be charged with trespass and some could face attempted-murder prosecutions.

His superior, Lt-General Thani Tawitchsri, said most of the protesters were from Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces farther south.

He suspected they had been encouraged to occupy the land by a person called Wimol Cherdchoo, who "promised to allocate plots" to them.

Thaksin Palm managing director Thanarak Pongpetra said the land was purchased legally and the company possessed title deeds. It had run the plantation since 1978.

The occupation resulted in Bt800,000 in lost production, he said. Workers refused to enter the plantation over the past 18 days.

Plantations have been occupied before, notably in 2003 when 1,300 landless farmers took over farms owned by Worakarn Palms and Ch Kiatcharoen.

Police also broke up those gatherings.

The Nation

And an interesting editorial about this in the Bangkok Post
If you know anything about gardening you will have little hope for democracy in this country.

The little knowledge my garden has given me is enough to make me understand that if I want my plants to be strong and healthy, I must make the soil fertile and appropriately respond to each plant's different likings to soil condition, watering and shade.

continued here http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/17May2007_news98.php

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And the follow up in the Nation:

Bounty for 'leader' of brawl at plantation

Police yesterday offered a Bt100,000 reward for a Surat Thani man suspected of inciting violence against police trying to break up an 18-day occupation of a palm-oil plantation.

More than 20 people were hurt on Saturday as police used force to disperse about 3,000 trespassers at Khiri Ratthanikhom plantation.

Wimol Cherdchoochon is wanted for allegedly encouraging the group to fight with the police.

The villagers had illegally occupied the 1,600-rai Thaksin Palms plantation on April 25, believing they had the right to acquire land in it. They refused to leave.

A total of 145 villagers have been charged with trespassing and released on bail. Arrest warrants have been issued for five villagers alleged to be leaders of the group.

Provincial Governor Niwat Sawaskaew defended the police from accusations they used excessive force. He said they used the proper level of force, had earlier attempted to negotiate an end to the sit-in and distributed leaflets asking squatters to leave.

The reward is for Wimol only, a source said, adding the man was connected with "old power".

Police intelligence and provincial authorities suggested the occupation could have been politically motivated and designed to cause social disruption and undermine the government.

Police sources said about 200 people from the deep South were "duped" into joining the protest. They have been sent home.

The 145 charged with trespassing are all Surat Thani residents. They told provincial police chief Maj-General Thesa Siriwatho that Wimol was chairman of a privately run body called the Organisation for Land Development for Agricul-ture in the South.

They were each promised 10-rai plots after joining the organisation for free. Plantation owner Thanarak Phongphettra said lost production would cost Bt800,000. He asserted none of the plantation was on public land and his family had run the farm since 1978.

Three of those injured in Saturday's melee were police. One man was shot in the leg as he allegedly attempted to run officers over with a pickup.

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