Rights groups seek action on missing activist

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    SIX MONTHS after the mysterious disappearance of Karen activist Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, human rights-related organisations such as Amnesty International Thailand and Karen Studies and Development Centre plan to establish a group to help and protect ethical activists.

    Billy, who fought for the right to their land in the forest of Kaeng Krachan National Park, went missing on April 17.

    The organisations will establish the “We All Are Billy” foundation to help those missing by forced disappearance, to provide financial aid to Billy’s family and to support campaigns to protect marginal people’s rights and environmental activists. They will also provide knowledge on the people-forest co-existence concept and give opportunities for Karen people to speak their thoughts to the public.

    “We want to make sure these people will not be forgotten and they will be case studies to support human rights in Thailand,” said project co-ordinator Pimsiri Ruangjiranan.

    Billy’s wife Pinnapa Preuksapan said she still hoped to find out if her husband is still alive. She raised the question why officials had taken so long and the case had not progressed. She said that, since Billy’s disappearance, she had to take care of five kids by herself while continuing her husband’s aim and intention to fight for the rights of Karen people.

    Amnesty International Thailand, meanwhile, released a statement asking officials to speed up the probe into Billy’s disappearance.

    The statement said there’s a possibility Billy went missing by force because he had evidence that could be used to sue park officials about human rights violations against Karen people living in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

    Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former chief of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, was accused of leading officials to destroy and burn down Karen homes in Ban Bangkloy Bon in January 2011.

    “Forced disappearance violates human rights and is a crime of international law that Thailand has agreed to,” Amnesty said in the statement.

    Kamol Nuanyai, the new national park chief, said officials would provide help for any unit working on the case and would deliver justice to local people according to the law.

    “I am in a neutral position and never had a conflict with anyone here. We have to talk to each other on how to solve the problem and how people can live and preserve the forest,” he said.

    Village headman Kratong Chokewiboon said 109 households moved from Ban Bangkloy Bon to live in Ban Bangkloy Lang. However, there was only enough land for 40 households, so the rest had to leave the village to work on construction sites.

    Koei Mimee, the 107-year-old grandfather of Billy, said the Karen had lives closely tied to forest and respect for the environment.

    The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said the Karen had lived in the forest before it was declared a national park.

    They had their own culture and traditions. Demolition of the Karen village by park officials was a violation of human rights.

    The NHRC sent a report of the incident and proposed measures to solve the issue on Oct 17 to the Culture Ministry, plus the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and the Department of Provincial Administration.

    Source: The Nation