Villagers claim they were duped into buying land in Myanmar
Myanmar is questioning the 49 Thais detained over the border in an attempt to find out the owners of the seized weapons as well as the rubber plantations, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa said Wednesday.The Thai side is hoping that Thai businessmen who are investing in Myanmar will step in to secure freedom for the Thai detainees.
The Thais, 41 men and eight women, were rounded up on July 4 by three companies of Myanmar troops. They were allegedly cutting down trees and clearing an area to plant para rubber trees in Victoria Point, opposite Ranong's Kra Buri district.
Thai Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chanocha said that the Myanmar authorities discovered military weapons during the operation although the Thais have not been charged with any offence.
Yutthasak told reporters not to believe the Myanmarese media reports and to wait for the outcome of talks between officials and Supreme Commander Gen Thanasak Pratimaprakorn, who is now visiting Yangon and will return to Bangkok this afternoon.
The Thai side believes that the detainees were duped into understanding that Myanmar authorities had permitted them to set up plantations on their territory.
Weerathum Yimwun, a resident of Patthalung's Pakpayoon district, said six of his relatives were being detained although he had only been able to find two of them on the list provided by the Myanmar side.
"The list given by Myanmar has only 31 not 49 detainees. Four of my relatives whom I know had joined the group of Thais planting in Myanmar are missing. I would like to ask the Thai side to talk to Myanmar and help find them," he said.
He revealed that a group of brokers had visited his village in Patthalung and told villagers that there was land for sale at Bt2,000Bt3,000 per rai and that the land was on Thai soil. He and other villagers visited the area to inspect the land, Weerathum said, claiming that the brokers moved the boundary markers to ensure they would believe the land was in Thai territory.
His six relatives decided to buy a total of 600 rai three months before the arrests.
Nit Uiteckeng, former chairman of the Ranong Chamber of Commerce, claimed that he and other Thai businessmen were informed that Myanmar had plans to grant concessions to those interested in leasing land in its southern region for agricultural purposes,
"Myanmar has already zoned the areas and announced the plan, which is aimed at attracting foreign investors. The project is protected under Myanmar laws," he said.
Meanwhile, a temporary border crossing with Myanmar in Mae Hong Son has been upgraded to a permanent one, with development projects and tourism operations set to be expanded.
The crossing at Huay Tonthoon in Khun Yuam district, which is opposite to Loikaw, the state capital of Myanmar's Kayah state, has been vital to local cross-border trade, said Mae Hong Son Governor Naruemol Palawat. The upgrade of the border crossing's status will be a further boost to trade volume and tourism on both sides of the border, especially when the construction and improvement of a 100-kilometre road linking both areas is completed this year, she added.
A Myanmar transport firm is considering providing a bus service between Loikaw and Khun Yuam, while a 20-member border committee, with 10 members from each country, has been set up to work further on trade and tourism, the governor said.