June 9, 2005
Fighting encroachers makes him unpopular
Koh Chang National Park chief Saran Jaisa-ad, who has dutifully been trying to unmask at least four landowners for alleged encroachment on forest and public land on the resort island off Trat province, has swiftly been transferred from his post.
The order was signed by National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department director-general Suwat Singhaphan on June 3, and gives Mr Saran just a week to leave.
Mr Saran, 53, said the move was possibly a result of his strong action against forest and public land encroachers on the island since being posted there in February 2004.
”Unfortunately, the encroachers are influential business figures, who are probably very angry at my actions,” he said.
Recently, Mr Saran had been trying to take legal action against a resort owner for encroaching on a coastal area at Ban Jek Bae in tambon Koh Chang Tai, where an underwater pipeline is being built to transport fresh water from Koh Chang to a private resort on a nearby island.
Mr Saran last month submitted a list of 12 encroachment cases to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat, who later appointed a committee, chaired by the Trat governor, to look into them. The panel has so far gathered strong evidence against four landowners for illegally obtaining title deeds, Mr Saran said. This includes the holder of controversial title deed 881, which has been issued for an 8-rai plot of land at a historic naval engagement site.
His information on forest encroachment and acquisition of illegal title deeds is also being used by the Department of Special Investigation in its own probes.
Lack of cooperation between officers of the Forestry and Interior ministries, such as the provincial governor and district chief, might also have contributed to his ”lightning” transfer, Mr Saran said.
”I am a strict law enforcer. I would not spare forest encroachers even if they are poor villagers. This principle seems to contradict those held by local interior officials, who are concerned more about the people’s well-being,” he said.
Mr Saran admitted he had failed to support the government’s policy on the development of tourism. ”Forestry officers have a job to protect natural resources, so it’s impossible to devote my work toward tourism development as it’s the most serious threat to Koh Chang’s natural resources and environment,” he said.
Under the order, Mr Saran has been appointed chief of Tap Lan National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima. Krisda Homsud, who had been chief of Lansang National Park in Tak province, will replace him.
Mr Suwat, chief of the the national park department, however, said the transfer, ”has nothing to do with land encroachment cases” on Koh Chang. ”There is no hidden agenda … it’s just an attempt to put the right man in the right job.”
A couple of low level planning department guys also left Koh Chang at the same time, they had reputations for being honest and not taking any backhanders – so they didn’t fit in well and were transferred.