The Royal Forest Department is now proudly implementing its campaign to reclaim land from plantations that encroached on state forests - but this has caused tears and desperation for many poor citizens hit hard by the move.
More than 300 people gathered yesterday in front of the Pu Pha Man National Park in Khon Kaen province out of concern that the campaign will adversely affect their livelihoods.
They said they suddenly received notice that they must prove their rights to "their" land plots.
Department chief Theerapat Prayurasiddhi said, separately, yesterday that the agency expects to reclaim some 400,000 rai of forestland across the country by the end of this year.
"Next year, we will also reclaim 600,000 more rai of forestland," he said.
He said this meant the department would be able to give about one million rai of forestland back to the country in just two years.
More than 500 rai was reclaimed on Monday alone, he said. A large part of these reclaimed plots are in Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet provinces.
Similar operations also took place in Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai.
Theerapat claimed locals did not object to the operations because there had been some communication between officials and locals beforehand.
But Chalarmsak Intakote, who works for a non-government organisation based near the Pu Pha Man National Park insisted yesterday that local people in his area were now getting worried.
"They are afraid that officials will suddenly cut down their rubber trees," he said yesterday.
Hundreds of locals who claim to have been allowed to live and make use of an area in the national park gathered to demand that relevant authorities give an assurance careful checks will be made in their presence before any trees are felled.
These people recently received a notice from authorities, asking them to prove their right to plots they now use.
There are 10 communities in Pu Pha Man. Seven of them have already proven their rights with state authorities pursuant to a 1998 Cabinet resolution. Three others have yet to undergo the officially recognised proving process, as they did not agree with the resolution.
A district chief in Khon Kaen met with the villagers yesterday and assured them that if they had not encroached further into the forest, their plantations would remain untouched.
After the assurance, locals dispersed.
Their fear lingered, however, as they had heard that officials had already cut down rubber trees in many other areas.
An elderly woman in Sakon Nakhon province last week lamented about her ravaged rubber plantation. "I am hurt and pained to see soldiers and forestry officials mercilessly destroy my rubber trees, the sources of income for my family," Jantra Bangthong said, "How will I pay for my grandchildren's education now?"