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Prosecution for encroachment

Former deputy interior minister Vatana Asavahame was indicted yesterday on charges of forest encroachment in Phangnga province. The veteran politician is among 11 suspects charged with trespassing on 8,735 rai of protected forest in Phangnga's Kapong district in 1986 while he was deputy interior minister.

Other suspects are Inter-Palm Oil Industries Co and its executives.

All suspects denied the charges, which also included encroachment and illegal clearing and use of forest and forest reserve land. They are accused of violating the 1964 National Forest Reserves Act and the 1941 Forest Act.

According to the prosecution writ, the suspects had cleared, set fire to and illegally taken possession of land designated as protected forest totalling 8,735 rai on the Kao Pai Toh and Kao Sok mountains from April 1986 to December 2005.

The land included 987 rai of water sources in national forest reserves and 7,748 rai of forest.

The alleged encroachment damaged the forest, water sources and forest land. All suspects surrendered to police in September and denied all charges.

The court accepted the case and set Feb 19 for opening of the trial.

The Department of Special Investigation in August asked the Office of the Attorney-General to take up the case after the Department of Special Litigation (DSL) dropped the indictment against Mr Vatana, citing lack of witnesses and evidence.

The case was initiated by Tambon Lay Administration Organisation chief Somchai Thippimol, who complained to the DSL that a group of people and state officials had encroached on protected forest and forged land documents in tambons Lay, Thana and Rommanee since 1986.

Story from Bangkok Post, 1st December, 2006.
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