12/29/2008, 00.00
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Four years after the tsunami, a difficult reconstruction

Entire communities of Thailand still have problems getting back on their feet after the devastation. Meanwhile, "influential people" are trying to drive them out and steal their land. The daily struggle of some of the fisherman, and their love of life.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - More than 1,000 people, relatives of victims of the tsunami four years ago, gathered on December 26 at the memorial in Phuket, for a commemoration ceremony organized by representatives of the three main faiths. Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims together remembered their loved ones (5,400 dead, more than half of them foreign tourists). They launched hot air balloons, a traditional symbol to drive away misery and unhappiness.

After years, in provinces like Ranong, Phangna, Krabi, Phuket, Satul, and Trang, it is still difficult to resume normal life, and disputes over land ownership have also broken out in the area. In the province of Phangna, many families have to defend themselves from the ownership claims of "influential people" who are seeking to exploit the chaos following the disaster.

Tien Harntalay, an inhabitant of the village of Baan Namchen (Phangna), tells AsiaNews that "here the life of the people has changed, after the former governor was transferred. There has been an invasion of important people who are using their power to have their names put on land deeds. The property department that is responsible in this matter is now carrying out the verifications." At the moment, the property of 2,258 families in 28 communities is under investigation.

It is also feared that property is being wrongly exploited. The population of the province of Ranong has organized a group called "Ploenpraisrinaka" to protect the mangrove forests. Volunteers are watching over the territory to report any abuses. The people are also asking for a law to protect these forests.

For the communities, these problems are added to those of daily survival. Tourism is a significant help. Prasuth Khopetch, president of the tourism office in the area, observes that "Swedish tourists are very important. Before the tsunami, there were 200,000 Swedish tourists a year, in 2008 there were 400,000."

In Ranong, significant support comes from the American tourists, who, as fisherman Yongyuth Buaban says, "have allowed families to find new sources of income. We fishermen take the tourists to see how we live." "We offer them local dishes, made with shrimp paste, fried fish, and sweet and sour vegetable soup."

These are important resources for people who, as Phuket fisherman Longsa says, "have fished my whole life. I don't know how to do anything else to make a living."

Jareuk Charoensil is an artist of shadow puppetry, very popular in the area. He explains to AsiaNews that "I used to be a fisherman, but when the tsunami came all my equipment was destroyed, so I began teaching shadow puppetry to the younger generation. In my community on Nang island, there are 30 households left after the tsunami, from 60 households.”

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