KAREN FOREST dwellers have vowed to fight on for their right to return to their old homes in Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan National Park, despite a court ruling yesterday.
The right to return means much more than “financial compensation” to the ethnic community’s 107-year-old spiritual leader Ko-I, who lived at Ban Bangkloi Bon long before it fell within the boundaries of the national park created in 1981.
Ko-I is one of the six plaintiffs in the case filed with the administrative court after forestry officials burned down more than 100 houses at Ban Bangkloi Bon in 2012 in a bid to evict their Karen owners.
“Actually, we don’t want money. Grandpa Ko-I just wants to go home,” Ko-I’s granddaughter-in-law Pinnapa Prueksaphan said after the Supreme Administrative Court awarded more than Bt50,000 compensation to each of the six plaintiffs yesterday.
While the court increased their compensation from the Bt10,000 ruled by a lower court, it did not allow them to return to their former home.
The court cited the fact that the Karen had no land-rights documents or permits issued by authorities to occupy any part of Kaeng Krachan National Park.
“We will try to prove that these ethnic Karen people had been living there before the park was created,” said Surapong Kongchantuk from the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
He said a Cabinet resolution issued on August 3, 2010 gave guidance on how to rehabilitate the Karen’s ways of life and protect their communities in the disputed areas.
“The Supreme Administrative Court mentioned this Cabinet resolution in its verdict. So this means all relevant authorities should comply with this Cabinet resolution,” Surapong said.
He said his team would cite the Cabinet’s resolution to trigger the process and prove that Ko-I and his community had lived inside the area that is now part of the national park.
Ko-I is a leading campaigner for the rights of the Karen people. One of his grandsons, Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, disappeared in 2014 after last being seen in the custody of forestry officials. His suspected enforced disappearance made international headlines.
“Grandpa feels unhappy in Ban Bangkloi Lang because he thinks he has taken a share of resources that had initially belonged to others,” said Pinnapa, the wife of Billy, whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown.
Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, then-chief of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, is reportedly the prime suspect in the disappearance but has always maintained that he released Billy following a brief interview and doesn’t know what happened to him after that.
Now serving as the director of the Conservation Forest Area Management Office 10, Chaiwat was also involved in the operation to burn down the Karen forest dweller’s houses.
“I am not going to apologise for the burning,” Chaiwat said. “Working to the fullest of my abilities during my stint there, I am proud that no one will be able to encroach on the Kaeng Krachan forest any more.”