Tuesday, December 5, 2023
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Sea gypsies fight for access to ancestral shrines

Thailand’s nomadic fishermen on Thursday urged the government to help resolve a dispute over access to ancestral shrines on land taken over by developers, following violence in which dozens were injured last month.

The “Chao Lay”, or “people of the sea”, drew public attention in 2004, when most of them managed to escape the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people by relying on their intimate knowledge of the sea.

The nomadic fishermen, who live on the shores of Thailand and Burma, have been embroiled in a dispute with Baron World Trade Ltd, which is developing property on the tourist island of Phuket, about 840 km south of Bangkok, the capital.

Officials of the company, which says it owns the land, did not immediately reply to an e-mail from Reuters to seek comment.

Representatives of the groups, which are also known as the Moken and Urak Lawoi, travelled to Bangkok to urge the Ministry of Justice to resolve the dispute and investigate last month’s attacks.

“They want the government to look into their rights, expedite their land cases and look into the harm done to them,” said Preeda Kongpaen of the Chumchon Thai Foundation, which campaigns for the land rights of indigenous communities.

Justice ministry officials did not provide any immediate comment.


In a report last year, Human Rights Watch said the Moken, often dubbed “sea gypsies”, face extortion and other abuse by authorities and are particularly vulnerable, because most are stateless as a result of their nomadic lifestyle.

The investigation into last month’s violence had made little progress, said Sunai Phasuk, a Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Despite clear evidence, including news footage and eye witness accounts, there is no progress by police as to whether they can identify those who attacked the Chao Lay,” Sunai added.

Police said charges had been filed against six people over the attack. “We’re still investigating,” said Noppadon Thiraprawat, superintendent of the Chalong police station, which is handling the matter.


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