Supot Kalasong, 42, knew his life was at risk but like so many people under death threats he didn’t expect it to be that day. Usually staying in the safe haven of Klong Sai Pattana village he rarely ventured out of the community that is surrounded by lookout points and bunkers built of sandbags.
As he drove his pickup back to the village up the rough dirt track leading through a palm oil plantation he was ambushed. The gunman jumped from a ditch next to the track and unloaded 6 bullets in to him from close range with a shotgun.
That event took place in April 2016. A year earlier, in February 2015, another man from the community called Chai Bunthonglek had been shot dead at his house by two gunmen.
Mr Kalasong was a key-witness in the court case of Mr Bunthonglek and also happened to be his son-in-law. That same gunman who is believed to have shot Mr Bunthonglek, was released from police custody due to lack of evidence, and is said to be the same gunman who emptied the 6 bullets in to Mr Kalasong just over a year later.
The villagers of Klong Sai Pattana have been fighting the Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd palm oil company in a land dispute that has engulfed this small community of around 70 families since 2008.
When the land concession of the company expired in 2003 a ruling by the Thai Government at the time stipulated that no further extensions of land concessions would be allowed. What should have been seized by the State for redistribution remained in firm control of Jiew Kang Jue Pattana.
But in 2007 a Thai government body called the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ARLO) sued the palm oil company for illegal land encroachment of this 554-acre plot. With the land now supposedly being in the hands of the very office who’s purpose it is to help land-less farmers acquire land, the local grass roots organization The Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT) felt it a good time to move in.
Formed in 2008 but with its roots in a land reform movement that started in the early nineties in the province of Surat Thani, SPFT works on behalf of landless farmers to secure them land with which to farm. It’s very being rose from the inability of farmers to count on the Government to act independently or the companies in question to regulate themselves by following the laws.
Out of 38 similar groups and organizations that have fought for land rights over the years in Surat Thani Province, SPFT is the only one who has not been evicted from its acquired land.
Within a year a small community of ramshackle houses had formed on the top of a hill and surrounded by the company’s palm oil trees where the villagers tried to start a new life and with their small plots eek out a living from the land.
Yet they never expected the retaliation that then ensued and found themselves subjected to increasingly violent retaliation that ultimately lead to the shooting and killing of their first community member, a man by the name of Somporn Pattaphum, in 2010. Between then and 2016 a total of four people have been shot dead, including two women in 2012, with no-one being held to account for these deaths.
The shadow of eviction still looms over the residents who fear their homes and lands could be casualties of bigger interests they cannot control and of acts happening outside the due process of law. The legal situation of the community is still unsettled and they live under constant threat and fear for their lives.
On the 22nd April 217 the final verdict of Mr Supoj Kalasong’s attempted murder case was announced at the Weangsa Provincial Court in Surat Thani Province. The case against the gunman, like all previous cases, was thrown out of court for lack of sufficient evidence collected at the crime-scene and during the investigation. The family was devastated as the continuous and repetitive pattern of violence and direct intimidation aimed at discouraging them from pursuing land title acquisition in this fertile and contested piece of land goes unpunished.