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Disappearance of Karen activist prompts concern

Fingers pointed at Kaeng Krachan park chief, who swears innocence

SEVERAL ORGANISATIONS, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Thailand, are pressing Thai authorities to speed up investigation into the disappearance of a leading Karen activist.

Por Cha Lee Rakchongcharoen, also known as "Billy", has been missing since April 17.

"The disappearance of this prominent activist demands an immediate government response," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said. "Thai authorities should not stay silent about Billy's case but explain what happened to him."

Amnesty International Thailand said Billy's disappearance proved that activists working to protect human rights were subject to intimidation, especially when they have conflicts with state officials.

The head of Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, who is known to have had conflicts with Billy, has denied having had anything to do with the man's disappearance.

The Karen Network for Culture and Environment's Tanintharyi Region and the Cross Cultural Foundation have also demanded that police locate Billy as soon as possible. "The state should help the victim and punish the culprits," the two organisations said in a statement.

They suspect that Billy's role in suing Chaiwat and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) might have had something to do with his disappearance. Three years ago, officials burned down the homes of Karen villagers living in the national park, and Billy helped the villagers take their case to the Administrative Court.

Meanwhile, witnesses said Billy was allegedly detained at a checkpoint last Thursday for allegedly having several bottles of wild-bee honey. Chaiwat also showed up to question him. However, there are no official records of Billy's detention or charges, and he has not been seen since.

Billy's wife, Pinnapa Preuksapan, lodged a missing-persons complaint with police yesterday.

"Before he disappeared, he told me he was going to prepare the villagers for the court hearings," Pinnapa said, adding that she believed his disappearance would affect the locals' fight for justice.

"I am gravely worried about his safety," Pinnapa said.

In 2011, Karen-ethnic activist Taskamon Oborm was shot dead.

A group of Karen people called on Phetchaburi province's deputy governor ML Kittibordee Pravit yesterday to help locate Billy. Kittibordee assured them that officials had already been told to work closely with police to find Billy.

Meanwhile, Chaiwat yesterday maintained he had nothing to do with Billy's disappearance. "I am innocent," he insisted, adding that some Karen leaders hated him for stopping them from cutting trees in the forest and thus wanted to "spread lies" about him.



"Now, they are even trying to portray me as a kidnapper," Chaiwat claimed. He admitted to meeting Billy last Thursday, but insisted that Billy had not been detained or harmed in any way. "I welcome any investigation," he said.

Issara Preuksahet and Suwanna Raman, student trainees from the North Bangkok University, said they were with Chaiwat when he rushed to meet Billy. "Initially, Billy was detained and brought into a pickup. But later, I saw Billy riding away on his motorcycle," Issara said.

National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara said yesterday that if police failed to locate Billy, then the people would feel that officials are not working to maintain justice.




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