Phimai residents seek official’s ouster in historical-site row

Villagers opposed to the declaration of Phimai municipality, with its iconic Khmer temple ruins, as a historical site rally in front of the local fine arts office, demanding the chief’s removal, on Tuesday.(Photo: Prasit Tangprasert)

NAKHON RATCHASIMA: The protest against the planned declaration of all of densely populated Phimai municipality as a historical site has escalated, with disgruntled residents demanding the ouster of a senior fine arts official.

They accuse Jaruk Wilaikeaw, who heads the local fine arts office, of making them feel “insecure”,  causing conflict among residents and of being a threat to the local economy.

The protestors are awaiting a response, after a delegation of 100 of them marched to the Nakhon Ratchasima-based 12th Regional Office of Fine Arts and the Phimai district office on Tuesday to submit their petitions.

“It’s up to my superiors to decide,” Mr Jaruk said after the latest demonstration in Phimai district. “I’ve only performed my assigned duties.”

His representative received the petition from the protestors on his behalf amid tight security at his office,  while Phimai district chief Chusak Khunko promised he would forward the matter to the provincial governor.

The Fine Arts Department infuriated many residents in Phimai municipality when it announced earlier it would proceed with the redemarcation of the historical area because nobody had raised objections to the plan within the set 30-day period.

Many residents want only the Khmer temple ruins in Phimai Historical Park and the ancient ponds as a historical site, not the whole municipality.

The protestors say that becuse of Mr Jaruk they live “without confidence and feeling insecure” for fear of eviction, because the new, expanded historical site would include their land and property.

Some businessmen are reported to have cut short their investment in the municipality after learning of the announcement.

The demonstrators also accuse Mr Jaruk of causing division within the community and “distorting information”.

Since the demarcation proposal surfaced people had been divided into two groups. Supporters said the department’s move would better regulate development and urbanisation the 2,600 rai of Phimai municipality, to ensure the old and the new can co-exist.

Mr Jaruk said earlier this year that only a few restrictions, including building heights and issuance of land title deeds in crucial historical locations, would be imposed.

“I’ve never given out false information,” he said on Tuesday, stressing that he had always worked in a straightforward manner.

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