Disappointed community banned from returning to Kaeng Krachan Park
THE KAREN COMMUNITY living in the Kaeng Krachan National Park regretfully accepted the Administrative Court’s verdict allotting them only Bt10,000 each in compensation after they were forcibly removed from their homes by National Park officers.
The community is also barred from returning to the land, which they say belonged to their ancestors.
Meanwhile, the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department pledged to appeal the verdict and refused to pay Bt60,000 in total compensation, claiming the court had been provided with incorrect information about Kaeng Krachan National Park officers burning down people’s homes.
The court ruled in favour of the defendants – the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry – on the grounds that the forced evictions were legal, dismissing all of the plaintiffs’ demands besides the compensation.
As the first plaintiff, the Karen community’s 105-year-old spiritual leader Ko-i Mimi said he accepted the verdict and was willing to comply with authorities’ demands that the community relocate to live in Ban Bangkloi Lang.
The Karen community had been living in Ban Bangkloi Bon in Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan district for decades.
“I swear on all sacred spirits that I have lived on that land [Ban Bangkloi Bon] all my life. When I first remembered the taste of my mother’s milk, I was there. That is my ancestors’ land, but if the court tells me to stay elsewhere, I’ll follow. But I would like to say that it is against my will and the authorities |have forced me out of my home,” Ko-i said.
The fourth plaintiff, Bunchu Phukard, a member of the Karen community, said he was sad that the court rejected nearly all their demands and only granted Bt10,000 in compensation.
“This amount cannot compensate for the loss of our homes and our way of life. The situation in the government-granted area in Ban Bangkloi Lang is bad and we need to return to our ancestral land,” Bunchu said.
Meanwhile, former Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn said the case would be used as a model for similar cases and could be considered a signal for forestry officers to carry on with their mission to protect natural resources and forests without fear of legal action.
“Even though the verdict was in favour of the department, we are not satisfied because the court’s decision to have us pay compensation to the plaintiffs was based on the wrong information. We will appeal,” Chaiwat said.
Chaiwat, who was responsible the community’s forced eviction in 2011, claims that photographs used as evidence in court were actually taken a year after the incident and might even have been forged.
Court rejects Karen claim
The court dismissed the Karen residents’ claim that they had been living on the land for generations because the disputed area was inside a national park area.
The court also pointed out that the land was on a mountain slope 600 to 1,000 metres above sea level.
The ruling found that the plaintiffs had encroached upon prime forest land to expand their community and farms, which meant the forest department’s decision to burn down their homes was permissible under Article 22 of National Park Act.
However, the court said the plaintiffs’ rights were violated because their belongings had not been removed before their homes were burned down so the first defendant had to pay each plaintiff Bt10,000 for damages.
In February, the Administrative Court ruled on a similar case filed by Karen resident No-ae Mimi. No-ae was also given only Bt10,000 in compensation as the court ruled that the defendants had not violated the law by forcefully evicting residents from Ban Bangkloi Bon village.
Source: The Nation