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Cablegate: Relocations Hurt Hill Tribe Agricultural Economy,

DE RUEHCHI #0140/01 2540718
R 100718Z SEP 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

CHIANG MAI 00000140 001.2 OF 003

Sensitive but Unclassified; Please handle accordingly.




1. (SBU) Agriculturally-dependent hill tribe or highland people
in northern Thailand have become economically strained by forest
conservation and drug control policies adopted by the Thai
government in the last several decades. These policies have had
success in conservation and counternarcotics efforts, but in
part by restricting land used for highland crops and relocating
selected hill tribe villages to largely uncultivable lowlands.
Officials say relocations rarely occur nowadays, but NGOs
contend that up to 2,000 people have been moved since 2005 (out
of a total hill tribe population of about 900,000 persons). As
a result, some hill tribe communities that were once
self-sufficient can no longer subsist on what they produce. In
response, agriculturally-dependent highland people are turning
toward economic alternatives in urban areas to compensate for
lower crop yields, seek additional sources of income, and meet
the rising costs of modern commodities and other expenses. End

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Relocation of Highland People Still Occurring

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2. (SBU) When forest conservation and drug control became major
domestic priorities and matters of

national security in the late 1980s, Thai government agencies
targeted highland villages through relocation initiatives and
land control policies that restricted the growth of hill tribe
communities. Efforts to preserve forest regions and to dissolve
drug trade networks - which have met with some success - have
largely come at the expense of hill tribe people, who have lived
in Thailand's forest areas for decades and have developed a
dependency on highland agriculture.

3. (SBU) Representatives of the Office of Narcotics Control
Board and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment say
that though land control policies still exist to prevent
encroachment onto protected lands, they independently halted
their own relocation policies in 1988 and 1998, respectively.
They contend that resettlement rarely occurs nowadays, and only
if the village being relocated is a threat to national security.
For example, narcotics officials allege that 300 hill tribe
communities are currently involved with narcotics cultivation
and that 1,000 are involved with smuggling.

4. (SBU) But NGOs (such as the Center for Redressing Problems
for Highlanders and the Northern Development Foundation) and
hill tribe community leaders contend that relocations are still
occurring more often than officials admit. They are also
concerned that sometimes an entire community is relocated though
only a few of its members are involved in illegal activities.
The Center for Redressing Problems for Highlanders estimates
that almost 2,000 highland people have been relocated since 2005
(out of a total hill tribe population of about 900,000 persons).
According to National Security Council records, in 2006 there
were 1,115 hill tribe villages that were still considered
illegal occupants in protected areas. NGOs assert that these
villages have been and still are susceptible to relocation.
Forest officials approved a plan this year to expand forest land
by 128 million rai (51.2 million acres), a move which will
likely affect the villages classified as illegal settlements.
Without any deeds or papers claiming official ownership over
their land, hill tribe people would have no choice but to
relocate if required by officials.

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CHIANG MAI 00000140 002.2 OF 003

Land Control Heightens Highland Food Insecurities

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5. (SBU) In a 1998 forest conservation move, forest officials
designated boundaries for national park and conservation areas
that would be prohibited from encroachment, land clearings and
agricultural use. This policy had a significant impact on
agriculturally-dependent highland tribes by limiting the
expansion of crop areas and reducing the amount of land
available for cultivation. In affected Karen tribes in the
north, the number of land plots informally owned by each family
was reduced from seven to one or two. As a result, food
stability for these groups was endangered, necessitating a
change in their agricultural production techniques.

6. (SBU) Tribes that had previously practiced crop rotation and
subsistence farming were forced to change to intensive and
commercial-led farming. But it has proven difficult for
highlanders to adjust, since intensive farming leaves a poorer
soil quality and has a higher initial cost for fertilizers and
pesticides. Moreover, because highland people do not have
titles or deeds formalizing their property rights, they have no
means of attaining a loan to invest in factors of production to
regenerate poor soil. Additionally, while highlanders had
previously grown crops to eat, they now had to grow to sell to
compensate for lower crop yields and reduced income from land
reductions and to find funds to support intensive agriculture.
Hill tribe people are also turning toward other economic
alternatives, particularly in the city, as sources of income to
provide for food and help sustain their lifestyle.

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Hill Tribe Villages Relocated to Infertile Lowlands

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7. (SBU) Other relocation schemes over the years have
transferred thousands of hill tribe people from fertile highland
areas to depleted, uncultivable lowlands, and without financial
compensation. Though officials say relocation efforts have
rarely occurred in recent years, NGOs point to cases suggesting
otherwise. Since 2006, resettlements cited by NGOs include
villages in four districts of Chiang Mai province (Phrao, Wiang
Haeng, Chiang Dao, and Mae Wang). Additionally, in 2005
officials in Lampang province moved a Lahu village that had been
living in the same area for 30 years. Narcotics officials
asserted that its residents were acting as middlemen in a Chiang
Rai-Lampang drug route, though ultimately only two people were
found to have been involved in narcotics smuggling. Officials
say that drug charges were only one of several reasons for the
resettlement, with illegal forest encroachment being another.
Officials admit, however, to sometimes relocating a community
based on charges that really only apply to a few of its members.

8. (SBU) While each family should receive about 20 rai (8
acres) to maintain subsistence living, community hill tribe
leaders estimate that on average relocated persons are given 10
rai (4 acres), with only 2 rai (.8 acres) that are usable. With
a limited amount of fertile soil, these villages were forced to
change their agricultural lifestyle - shifting from crop
rotation and subsistence farming to intensive and commercial -
and to find additional sources of income, particularly in the


Relocation with Responsibility


9. (SBU) Some relocation efforts are also occurring under the
umbrella of the Queen's Initiative Projects, the overall aim of
which is to conserve forest areas while promoting responsible
agricultural development. With seven of these projects
currently underway, selected villages have been moved from their

CHIANG MAI 00000140 003.2 OF 003

original locations in the forest and given new land, with
residents having the opportunity to be employed as contract
farmers in crop fields overseen by the project. Advocates of
the project say it provides appropriate compensation while still
conserving forests; others assert that families are not given
enough land (4 rai, or 1.6 acres) and that not everyone is given
employment. On balance, NGOs commend efforts, such as the
King's Royal Projects and the late Queen Mother-sponsored Mae
Fah Luang Foundation, that seek to alter highland economic
reliance on narcotic crops and logging, thereby making
highlanders less susceptible to relocation. (Note: in 2003 the
Mae Fah Luang Foundation was formally recognized by the UN
Office of Drugs and Crime for its exceptional contribution to
sustainable alternative development to eradicate opium and
provide alternative livelihoods in the Golden Triangle).

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A Search for Alternative Incomes, Sustainability

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10. (SBU) With farming income falling, highlanders are turning
to economic alternatives in the city to make up for a loss in
sustainability. There is also added pressure to earn more money
because of increased expenses for education - such as the costs
of travel from remote villages, lunches and uniforms - and the
cost of modern appliances like television sets and DVD players.
According to the Northern Development Foundation, the most
common urban jobs for hill tribe members are as restaurants and
karaoke bar workers, street vendors, construction workers, gas
station attendants and domestic laborers. Others engage in the
sex industry and drug trade for income. In 2003, the Institute
of Ethnic Studies at Rajabhat University Chiang Rai studied the
economic effects of resettlement on the Baan Wang Mai village in
Lampang, which was relocated in 1995. Initially, to compensate
for a drop in income, members first found work as contract
farmers, but found wages to be too low and subsequently moved
into the city. Of those who moved outside the village, 61%
worked as day laborers while 27% sold tofu drinks. The same
study also found rising numbers of female villagers turning to
the sex industry.

11. (SBU) By migrating to the city, highlanders - especially
those without legal residence or citizenship status - are more
at risk to develop health problems or be recruited into the sex
trade. Undocumented hill tribe members - who for certain
reasons may not have citizenship - are more vulnerable at
checkpoints on their way home from the city, with NGOs reporting
cases of officials seizing their earnings. Also, some
undocumented highlanders in need of additional income apply to
become (non-Thai) migrant workers, though at the cost of
forfeiting the possibility of attaining citizenship benefits
they may be eligible for if born on Thai soil.




12. (SBU) Agriculturally-dependent highland tribes are
struggling with issues of sustainability. As land

limits become stricter and as hill tribe populations grow,
highlanders encounter a resource problem causing migration to
cities. This in turn leads many to look toward illegal outlets
of income, feeding an already significant drug problem and
placing more individuals at risk for exploitation by human
trafficking networks or other opportunistic criminals.

13. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Bangkok.

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