KOH PHI PHI, Thailand (Reuters) - Graffiti sprayed on a wall on a tsunami-hit
Thai island expresses the fears of millions now living precariously around the
Indian Ocean -- "Rich come for land. Poor man must go."
In the wake of the Dec. 26 killer wave, villagers and fishermen from southern
India to Sri Lanka to Thailand say powerful businessmen, often in cahoots with
politicians, are grabbing lucrative beachfront real estate.
In the case of Phi Phi, a paradise isle made famous by cult Leonardo di Caprio
movie 'The Beach', residents say developers are plotting to starve them of aid,
cripple the economy and then scoop up the entire island at bargain prices.
"It is quite clear that they just want this place to wither on the vine,"
said one businessman, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.
According to John, a dive operator who also did not want his full name in print,
developers wanted to buy the island for 10 million baht ($250,000) per acre
when its market value was probably closer to 50 million baht.
"You can forget Bangkok -- this is some of the most expensive land in Thailand.
This place makes big money," he said, pointing to the rubble remains of
the backpacker haven that drew thousands of people and millions of dollars a
Provincial officials said a proposal to build high quality facilities had been
put forward and this might have been misconstrued by residents as a plot to
evict them and cover the island in luxury hotels.
"It was only a preliminary proposal, which needs 60 days to be adjusted
and amended to meet local demands," said Anek Chiwawutipong, the head of
city planning and civil engineering for Krabi province, which has jurisdiction
over Phi Phi.
With no noticeable assistance from the government, an army of foreign volunteers
and returning Thai residents swarm over the island like ants, carting rubble,
cleaning floors and painting walls.
They say the government has forbidden any new building until a reconstruction
plan is in place and has told banks to withhold loans needed by businesses to
get up and running again.
"It is totally scandalous that the recovery process for those people --
who have had to live in camps far away from their everyday lives -- is being
delayed because people who are already rich are squabbling over how to get richer,"
DIFFERENT PLACES, SAME PROBLEM
Across the region, where around 300,000 lost their lives in the disaster, similar
tales abound of politics and commerce ganging up on tsunami-devastated fishermen
Development group ActionAid said fishermen in India's Tamil Nadu were being
hustled out of their ancestral homes and resettled up to a half-mile away from
the beach on the pretext of needing to avoid another tsunami.
However, ActionAid said the authorities were doing nothing about the existing
luxury beach hotels and fish farms similarly close to the beach and equally
vulnerable to a tsunami.
The group says it has found similar pressures elsewhere.
"In Sri Lanka, they now want to put Hindus in one place and Muslims in
one place so they can build beach resorts," ActionAid International chief
executive Ramesh Singh told a recent panel discussion on the tsunami and its
"The next wave of the tsunami is coming, in that their beach lands will
be grabbed and their fishing rights taken away. It is not ended. The disaster
has begun for them," he said.
In Thailand, complaints of a post-tsunami land-grab are a variation on an age-old
In the devastated village of Ban Nam Khem, 48-year-old Lamai Rodson, who lost
her husband, two fishing boats and a house, says she and 70 other residents
are feeling the heat from two companies claiming their land and trying to build
a ferry pier.
She has lived on her three-acre plot since 1972 and won a court case defending
her ownership in 1994 but says she has received death threats from gangsters
and was nearly blown up by a bomb which killed another woman last year.
"It is worse than the tsunami," Lamai said. (Additional reporting
by Nopporn Wong-Anan)