The rubber farmers' protest at Ban Khuan Nong Hong intersection in Cha-uat district started as a tiny gathering to discuss the government's cash subsidy of 2,520 baht per rai.
Protesting rubber farmers at BanKhuan Nong Hong intersection inNakhon Si Thammarat’s Chauat district give offerings to the spirits of their ancestorsand to the roaming spirits in theduen sip (tenth lunar month) festival. The ceremony traditionally takes place in temples. PATIPATJANTHONG
The use of force to break up the roadblock, however, turned it into a leaderless and possibly dangerous protest that might persist for some time yet.
The gathering took hold shortly after a meeting between farmers' and government representatives on Sept 14.
The farmers' representatives were split into two groups at the meeting. One signed an an agreement with Thawach Boonfueang, deputy secretary to the prime minister, over the subsidy offer but the other group refused, arguing Mr Thawach was not the decision-maker.
At the suggestion of Chayanin Khongsong, who is facing charges in connection with the clashes which took place later with police, the farmers converged near the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives office to listen to details of the subsidy offer.
At one point a woman who was accompanied by a group of teenagers called out for a road blockade.
This prompted the teens to dash off and block the road despite opposition from the farmers.
Most growers believed the blockade would end in a day or two because only a few people were manning the roadblock on the night of Sept 14.
However, that didn't turn out to be the case.
"It was a bad decision to break up the roadblock and disperse the protesters," a village head in the tambon said.
"Talks were under way to persuade them to lift the blockade.
"When police made their move, it became a fight between teenagers and police. These teens aren't afraid of police. When they see police, they run towards them."
A farmer who took part in the previous protest said the police were advised to stay away from the intersection after removing the blockade because their presence could provoke a reaction.
However, the police refused to move because no one had ordered them to.
"This could have been avoided. The people were really tired from the last protest," the farmer said.
On Sept 16 the protesters clashed with police, just hours after the officers had cleared the demonstration site. About 70 police officers were injured and some 10 police vehicles were set ablaze.
A police officer in Cha-uat district said the operation to disperse the protest was unwise. The incident was likely to lead to mistrust between authorities and locals, he said.
Terd Thakham [not his real name], a protest coordinator, said the demonstration was leaderless and lacked direction.
The farmers came to the site just to make sure police would not attempt to clear the protesters from the road.
"It got like this because the first group of farmers was suspected of siding with the government. No one wanted to step in," he said.
Following a visit by Democrat MPs, the protesting farmers agreed to appoint representatives to negotiate with the government. They came up with a set of demands that has so far received no government response.
"I decided to end my role as a coordinator because I don't think I can take the demands to the government. I don't know how this protest will end," Mr Terd said.
Saksarit Sriprasart, a coordinator for the rubber association in the Andaman region, said the government seems to be casting the protesters in a negative light, which makes talks impossible.
He said the association would like to suspend the protest for a month to see if the subsidy programme works out.
Democrat MP Apichart Karikarn said the talks were needed and accusations should be set aside to allow negotiations to take place.
About the author
- Writer: Pradit Ruangdit