BANGKOK — Negotiations and flowers failed to win a reprieve for Saphan Lek vendors today as city workers today began demolishing the historic market situated on the west side of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
Hundreds of vendors gathered in white T-shirts this morning to give officials flowers in an attempt to win another 90 days time to clear stock and relocate, but before noon workers moved in and began stripping the roofing to dismantle approximately 500 structures which for three decades provided a claustrophobic warren of stalls selling electronics, games and toys.
“We think it is really an injustice. Anybody who has been here will know it is impossible to move all the stalls out under such short notice,” vendor Chanya Surawutthinak said. “Today they made a decision based on their papers, but they have to look into the reality.”
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration today led teams to the location at the end of Yaowarat Road to begin what city hall said is part of a campaign to reclaim public space, particularly the historic canal the market was built over. Just around the corner, an advisor to Bangkok’s governor said demolition began at Saphan Han, an old Chinese trading community where the tenants had vacated.
Workers began taking apart a structure today at Saphan Han.
The vendors had complained the two-weeks notice given by the city was insufficient for them to sell their stock and move. They also said it came at a bad time, as the New Year holiday period saw their best sales of the year.
Last week they petitioned the Ministry of Interior to intervene on their behalf and win another year’s time, a call supported by Thailand’s Human Rights Commission, which organized a panel discussion on Friday.
Disappointed vendors today went to the Government House this afternoon to call for help.
Maj. Gen. Wichai Sangprapai, advisor to Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, said he would raise the matter of an extension with city officials Wednesday. However Bangkok Deputy Governor police Gen. Assawin Kwanmuang insisted the land could not be allowed for commercial purposes once it is redeveloped into a recreation area. The canal will be used for transportation.
The BMA first announced it would demolish the market to reclaim the area Sept. 28, saying the market obstructs the canal and encroaches on public land. City hall threatened to forcibly remove the stalls illegally built into the canal if the vendors refuse to leave within 15 days.
Vendors accused the city of colluding with a land developer to force them out and onto land sold to the developer by the family of Sukhumbhand.
The governor’s advisor, Maj. Gen. Wichai, dismissed those accusations as groundless.
At Friday’s public discussion, Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara urged Gov. Sukhumbhand to grant the extra year sought by the vendors to avoid the appearance of any impropriety.
An eyesore to those who want to see a tidier capital city and an icon of its charm to others, Saphan Lek is the latest such landmark to be eliminated.
In February, the nearby Khlong Thom was shut down. Elsewhere, street vendors have been removed or restricted as part of the BMA’s “reorganization” campaign.
The metro administration has said it is carrying out the military government’s policy to reclaim public space and walkways.