About 40 Karens prosecuted for forest encroachment

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    The authority detains Pakayaw Karen villagers accused of illegal logging and encroaching protected forest in Mae Sariang detention facility (courtesy of the Observer of the National Council for Peace and Order's Plan to Reclaim the Forest)

    The criminal court has convicted 39 Pakayaw Karen villagers on charges related to illegal logging and forest encroachment and sentenced them to imprisonment and fines. This is believed to be the first large scale prosecution of so-called ‘encroachers’ under the junta’s heavy-handed approach to increase forest coverage.

    On Wednesday morning, Mae Sariang Court in the northern province of Mae Hong Son convicted 24 Pakayaw Karen villagers charged with illegal deforestation to one to seven years imprisonment. Fifteen others who faced similar charges were fined 10,000-20,000 baht. Two of the 15 died before the verdict was read.

    The 39 Pakayaw Karen residing in Tung Pa Ka District of Mae Hong Son Province were arrested by the military on 4 May. They were charged on 28 August by the Mae Sariang District Prosecutor with encroachment and logging in a protected area.

    The 39 Pakayaw Karen residing in Tung Pa Ka District of Mae Hong Son Province were arrested by the military on 4 May. They were charged on 28 August by the Mae Sariang District Prosecutor with encroachment and logging in a protected area.

    According to the Royal Forest Department, the Karen villagers were cutting timber in a protected area for commercial reasons. However, the Karen claimed that they only wanted to use it to renovate and build houses within the community.

    Military and Royal Forest Department officers confiscate planks of wood which, according to claims by villagers in Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary, Buriram Province in northeastern Thailand, were to be used to build their houses. The authorities, however, believe that the villagers cut the wood to sellSince the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order announced Order 64/2014 on 14 June to take legal measures against encroachers into protected forests, many ethnic minorities and other marginalised Thai people living in areas overlapping with National Parks have been affected.

    Earlier on 24 July, three Pakayaw Karen families living in Mae Ngao National Park of Mae Hong Son were left destitute after three plots of the families’ farmlands were reclaimed by the Royal Forest Department.

    Source: Prachatai English