PA KHLOK: Phuket Senator Paiboon Upatising stepped into the middle of a dispute between local villagers and a Bangkok-based landowner yesterday, standing surety for 15 villagers accused of trespass and of obstructing government officials in the execution of their duty. The charges relate to a piece of land abutting the klong in which villagers keep their fishing boats. The villagers argue that by refusing to allow them to cross his land, the landowner, Taweesak Apichatmaneekul, is preventing them from reaching their boats, thereby depriving them of their living. Yesterday, the 15 villagers, accompanied by some 35 supporters carrying placards, arrived at Thalang Police Station to undergo questioning and to make statements. Sen Paiboon, who stood surety of 30,000 baht for each of the 15, told the Gazette, “I think the villagers are innocent. They have used this piece of land for a long time. They are not trespassing on it; they just use it as a way through to the sea for fishing. And I don’t think the dispute is serious enough to warrant the villagers being brought up on charges.” Pol Capt Suwarit Prommool of Thalang Police Station said that “All the villagers deny both offenses. We will send a report to the public prosecutor, for him to consider whether to go forward with the charges.” Siripoj Cheechang, a local environmentalist and one of 15 people on the police list said, “[In November, K. Taweesak] reported us to the police for trespass. [On December 18] the second charge, of obstructing officers during their work, was laid against us.” “A long time ago – I don’t recall when – officers from the Phuket Provincial Land Office came to survey the land. We went to talk with them about our problem. We didn’t use any violence,” K. Siripoj explained. Villagers told the Gazette that this second charge was laid by Sa’lad Bamroongna, an employee of K. Taweesak. This is not the first time that the villagers of Pa Khlok have gone up against landowners. In October last year, K. Siripoj was knocked off his motorcycle by a pick-up truck whose driver then turned the vehicle round and ran over him. He survived the attempt on his life, but in January this year another villager, Jurin Rachapol, was shot dead. That murder resulted in the arrest of prawn farm owner Somsak Wongsawanond and the alleged hitman, Bancha Noppawong, by police from the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok.