The Fine Arts Department scraps its plan to evict 1,665 families, but wants a stop to the ‘urbanisation’ of the ruins of an ancient Khmer sanctuary. (YouTube/mony chan)

The Fine Arts Department (FAD) said Wednesday that more than 1,665 families living in the Phimai historical site in Nakhon Ratchasima will be allowed to stay.

“Urbanisation in Phimai municipality has been rapid and unchecked. The department needed to declare the whole area as a historic site to protect the national heritage,” FAD director-general Anant Chuchote said.

“But our policy to demarcate the municipality as a historic site will not lead to evictions. Residents will be allowed to stay,” he told reporters Wednesday.

The FAD sought to ally fears after about Phimai municipality residents staged a protest at the weekend against a move to formally demarcate the 2,658-rai area as a historic site.

The protest came after they were informed in a department letter that a 30-day deadline to voice objection to the demarcation had expired.

The letter issued on Oct 16, said that because no objections had been filed within 30 days, the department would proceed to formally demarcate the historic site under Section 7 of the 1961 law on historic sites, art objects and museums.

Around 400 residents on Sunday turned up at the municipal office to oppose the move and threatened to lodge a petition with the Administrative Court.

Meanwhile, residents in tambon Phimai municipality said they had proper legal documents to prove they had the right to occupy the land.

Jaruk Wilaikaew, director of FAD’s Division 12 which oversees the Phimai historical site said Sunday’s protest was incited by a group of villagers who fear they will lose out financially as a result of the FAD’s move.

He insisted residents can still trade and transfer their properties, develop their houses and use their property as loan guarantees.

There were only few restrictions stipulated by the FAD, he said. Among them are that residents can only construct buildings that are two storeys, or a maximum of nine metres high.

Another is that residents cannot issue title deeds in some crucial historic locations where valuable heritage sites are located locate such as ancient structures, ancient ponds or monuments.

Mr Jarak said the villagers behind Sunday’s protest have been trying to issue land title deeds for an ancient pond that was part of a Phimai heritage structure. The pond is located in the southern part of the municipality and is 750 metres wide and 1,800 metres in length.

“People protested because they misunderstood. Their rights over their property remain untouched. But if they vow to continue protesting, they need to seek justice from the courts,” said Mr Jurak.

The FAD declared part of the ancient ruins, famous for their 11th-century sandstone structures, as a historic site in 1936. However, the department did not formally demarcate it until recently.

The Phimai historical park is prized as an Isan heritage site and is firmly on the tourist map.

The FAD’s move to demarcate the historical park, located in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Nai Muang district, is believed to be part of the government’s effort to register the Khmer-style sanctuary, built in honour of Khmer King Suyarvarman I, as a World Heritage Site.

News Reporter

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