On 12th November 2012, two Thai women were found dead at the edge of a palm oil plantation, a mere 800 meters from the sand-bagged security post that marks the guarded entrance to their community. Littered among their bodies were the 10 bullet casings from the assault rifle that killed them.
The joint murder was a clear warning to their small village of Klong Sai Pattana in Surat Thani, southern Thailand. The victims – Montha Chukaew, 54, and Pranee Boonrat, 50 – had spent the last four years fighting the Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd palm oil company in a land dispute that has engulfed this small community of around 70 families.
For decades a palm oil company called Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd had illegally occupied and harvested palm oil trees on a 168-hectare plot of land in Chai Buri District of Surat Thani Province in Southern Thailand. With no land title deed or legal documentation the company had gone unhindered for such a long period of time until their presence caught the interest of the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT).
Formed in 2008 but with its roots in a land reform movement that started in the early nineties in the province of Surat Thani, SPFT works on behalf of landless farmers to secure them land with which to farm. It’s very being rose from the inability of farmers to count on the Government to act independently or the companies in question to regulate themselves by following the laws.
After having collected detailed evidence of Jiew Kang Jue Pattana’s illegal occupation they presented it to the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO). As a result of this information in 2005 ALRO sued the palm oil company for illegal land encroachment of this 168-hectare plot plot.
This court case was won by ALRO in the Provincial Court in 2007, and with the land in the hands of the very office who’s existence is to help land-less farmers acquire land, the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT) moved on to the land in 2008.
Yet they never expected the retaliation that then ensued and found themselves subjected to increasing violence that ultimately lead to the shooting and killing of their first community member, a man by the name of Somporn Pattaphum, in 2010. Between then and 2016 a total of four people have been shot dead, including two women in 2012, with no-one being held to account for these deaths. The most recent shooting in April 2016 was of Mr Supot Kalasong who remarkably survived but his father-in-law Chai Bungthonglek wasn't so lucky in 2015.
The shadow of eviction still looms over the residents who fear their homes and lands could be casualties of bigger interests they cannot control and of acts happening outside the due process of law. The legal situation of the community is still unsettled and they live under constant threat of eviction and fear for their lives.
In February 2017 the final verdict of Mr Supoj Kalasong’s attempted murder case was announced at the Weangsa Provincial Court in Surat Thani Province. The case against the gunman, like all previous cases, was thrown out of court for lack of sufficient evidence collected at the crime-scene and during the investigation. The family was devastated as the continuous and repetitive pattern of violence and direct intimidation aimed at discouraging them from pursuing a community land title in this fertile and contested piece of land goes unpunished.