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HILLTRIBE DISPUTE: Plodprasop rules out intervention; Raid seen as a way of settling old scores

The Forestry Department says it will not intervene in a dispute between Hmong and lowlanders in Nan.

Hmong houses and lychee plantations in Pua district were raided by Nan lowlanders in what the department says was a point-scoring dispute rather than an environmental issue.

"They were just getting even because the Hmong had felled trees planted under the reforestation programme. We won't do anything," said forestry chief Plodprasop Suraswadi yesterday.

He insisted it was the Interior Ministry's job to tackle the matter saying local authorites assured him they would take care of it.

Mr Plodprasop denied the department's inaction was because he had always wanted to evict the hilltribe saying he would manage to find a solution anyway.

The Hmong have settled on the Chiang Klang watershed, found along the moutain range. They have for years grown lychee, cabbages and ginger in Nam Peua and Nam Kon forests.

They have set up their own irrigation system, contaminating and depriving water downstream.

Earlier, Mr Plodprasop said he would adopt the lease system here if it was successful in Koh Samet where resort operators would return their properties to the department which would lease them back.

"I've already warned everyone involved that if nothing was done, the conflict would get to the point where violence could break out," he said.

Asked if it meant he had abandoned the watershed, the director-general said he was just "letting it go for a while and solving forestry problems in other places".

Meanwhile, Hmong villagers said government officials had not been neutral in the prolonged conflict between them and lowland villagers.

Suradet Yangsaeng, the kamnan of tambon Pa Klang, said tribesmen would not take responsibility for any untoward incidents which might take place.

He issued a statement, addressed to the Pua district chief, and co-signed by Noppadol Saensongsiri and Sermsak Asawacharoenkul, chiefs of twovillages in tambon Pa Klang, and Somrit sae Thao, chairman of the Joint Network of Forest and Land of tambon Pa Klang.

On Monday, villagers from six tambon in adjacent Chiang Klang district raided lychee plantations in Pha Daeng forest at Doi Phu Kha National Park.

While official figures said 200-300 rai of lychee plantations and 20 houses were destroyed, causing about six-million-baht damage, Mr Suradet said the actual damage was much worse: 1,500 rai of lychee and 180 huts had been destroyed.

The tribespeople suspected government officials might be backing the action by the lowlanders whoaccused them of encroaching on Nam Peua and Nam Kon forests for cultivation.

Only the lychee plantations of Pang Kae villagers in Pha Daeng forest were destroyed, he said.

Uamdao Noikorn and Wuthipong Srisilp