BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new community forest bill that aims to give Thai villagers more say in managing natural resources is too limited in its scope and risks further marginalising those living outside areas covered by the act, land campaigners said on Thursday.

The bill – which was first drafted more than 30 years ago – was approved by Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly last week, according to forestry department officials, and is expected to become law within 180 days.

The bill defines community forests as those that sit outside conservation areas managed by the state, and allows villagers living in these forests to use and manage its resources after they have registered their communities with the government.

“For the first time, there is legal recognition of the right of local communities to manage their forests, so this is significant” said Warangkana Rattanarat, Thailand country director at the Centre for People and Forests (RECOFTC).

“But the bill limits community forests to those in reserved forests and not those in conservation areas such as national parks, so it does not benefit all forest-dependent communities,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thailand has more than 12,000 community forests benefiting about 3 million indigenous and rural families, according to government data. Few have legal ownership of the land their ancestors lived in.

Forest-dependent communities have frequently clashed with authorities and are often charged with trespassing or evicted.

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