Thailand: Time to end abuses in Kaeng Krachan

    Pinnapa Prueksaphan, wife of the missing Karen activist Porlajee 'Billy' Rakchongcharoen, holds the youngest of her five children during one of her trips to Bangkok to press authorities to find her husband.  (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

    We are Thai nationals of Karen ethnicity, residents of Baan Jaiphaendin and Baan Bangkloybon villages in Kaeng Krachan forest. We have lived on this land for countless generations and we were content with our self-sufficient lives planting rice in the rotation farm system.

    In 1981, the authorities declared Kaeng Krachan forest — where Baan Jaiphandin, Baan Bangkloybon are situated — a national park. We had no knowledge of the declaration because no official informed us.

    Then in 1996 officials forced us to move south to Baan Bangkloylaang, our current settlement.

    Each family was given a plot of land — 7-8 rai per family. We were also assured that we would be given food for three years upon relocation. Some 37 families agreed to move, counting on the promises that land would be offered and food supplied for the next three years.

    Other villagers refused to relocate. They remain where they have always lived.

    In allocating land for the new settlers, officials seized land that belonged to villagers of Baan Pongluek. The villagers of Baan Pongluek, who did not have enough land to get by in the first place, resented the arrangement because they lost land they expected their families to use in the future.

    Also, not all the new settlers received an allocation of land and in some cases, land assigned to them was full of rocks and could not be used to grow rice.

    Regarding the national park officials’ promise to give a supply of food for three years, those who relocated received food for less than three months.

    They endured a lot of hardship because there’s not enough rice to eat. They had to find outside work. Some who went to look for jobs in the town were underpaid and exploited.

    After two very hard years, we decided to make our way back to our ancestral land. Because our land is fertile with fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

    Officials have been carrying out violent acts such as forced migration and eviction by destroying our houses, rice barns and our traditional beliefs since 1996.

    They accused us of being ethnic minorities who had fled from Myanmar. We are not migrants from Myanmar. We are indigenous people of Baan Jaiphaendin and Baangkloybon.

    Therefore, we will not go to Myanmar, nor will we go back to Baan Bangkloylang.

    National park officials stepped up their acts of forced eviction and it escalated to the extent of arson attacks on our homes, rice barns, and cutting down our crops and fruit trees. They also arrested us.

    We are facing a very hard time. The items pertaining to our traditional rites have also been destroyed.

    Whenever we perform our traditional rites, we have to conduct them in secret.

    Children, the elderly, the sick, the pregnant, and the disabled residents of Bangkloybon suffered in equal measures. We did not have enough food to get by.

    Some died of starvation. Some women suffered miscarriages due to malnutrition. We had to hide in the forest and caves, without a spare sets of clothes or blankets.

    We had to weather the rain, cold, mosquitoes and foraging on root vegetables, bamboo shoots in order to live. We used to share our plight with the village leaders of both Pongluek and Bangkloy. Though they are aware of our situation, they dare not help us for fear of reprisals.

    They are afraid that officials would bully them if they help us, even though villagers and leaders of Pongluek and Bangkloy are our blood relatives.

    On May 18, Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, or Billy, the Karen community leader disappeared.

    No one knows his whereabouts or his fate, whether he’s alive or dead.

    We live in fear in our village of being kidnapped like Billy. We would like to seek help from the relevant agencies, to help protect us.

    We would like to ask the director-general of the Department of National Park and Wildlife to transfer Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn out of Kaeng Krachan National Park until the inquiry and court process has finished.

    This is because Mr Chaiwat is the defendant in the court case of masterminding the assassination of Taskamol Ob-orm who came in to assist us.

    We wish to claim our right to live in our ancestral land at Bangkloybon, without being bullied, evicted, arrested, or subject to arson or destruction of our traditional belief and practices.

    We wish to live a sedentary life, for the security of our way of life and quality of life.

    Clear demarcation of farm land to prevent encroachment into the national park area is the way to ensure that we can live without hardships, so we don’t have to live like fugitive forest dwellers. We would like to live in our home village of Bangkloybon in peace and happiness like in the past.

    And we will cooperate with the authorities in looking after the forest, for the security of the people and the country.

    We request the agencies concerned speed up the fact finding mission into our plight as a matter of urgency because we are suffering.

    Pinnapa Prueksaphan is the wife of Porlajee ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen, the ethnic Thai-Karen leader who has been missing for 180 days today after being arrested by park officials. The article is the translation of her petition to the palace to seek justice for Kaeng Krachan forest dwellers and her husband.

    Source: Bangkok Post