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A community of ethnic Shan in Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province have been given a four-month deadline by authorities to move out of the Nong Phueng village where they settled around four years ago.
Despite the fact that they hold specific identity cards for non-Thai highland peoples, authorities claim that only those with full Thai citizenship can buy land in the country. Around 100 households will have to leave by October this year.
“Authorities told us we can either take down the houses or they will come and do it for us, but where are we supposed to go?” said one man in Nong Phueng. “Now all the money we spent on the houses will be wasted – I spent around THB100,000 [$US3,300] on mine.”
Sai Hsai Mueng of the Chiang Mai-based migrant advocacy group, MAP Foundation, said the Shan people didn’t know there was a law banning non-Thai citizens from own land or building houses. He said however that residents of Nong Phueng, around 26km north of Chiang Mai city, were tricked by local Thai villagers and headmen.
“According to the Thai law, non-Thai citizens are [only] allowed to work on land and cultivate farms and gardens but they can’t build houses on this land and live there,” said Sai Hsai Mueng.
“The [immigrants] didn’t have much legal knowledge and the land owners and village leaders, through brokers, offered to sell land to those who carry highland ID cards or migrant work permits at around THB20,000 to THB40,000 per plot. The [Shan] have already built houses on the land they bought.”
The village’s leaders are now being questioned by authorities regarding the land sales.
It is not the first time the Nong Phueng community has been ordered to move: in 2008 an order from Thai authorities was postponed with an agreement from the Shan that they would comply with future evictions.
The postponement came after rights groups petitioned the Thai government to allow them to extend their stay there.