Missing activist's wife turns to junta for help

national June 21, 2014 00:00

By Thanapat Kitjakosol
The Natio

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DNP claim that Karen felled trees dismissed; Billy's disappearance put down to video clip

The wife of a prominent Karen activist, missing since April 17, has called on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to help find her husband. 
Pinnapa Preuksapan submitted a petition yesterday addressed to NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha via Colonel Anucha Chumkham, who heads the Army’s PR Division. 
“There is no progress with the investigation into his disappearance,” she lamented. 
Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen was last seen with the chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi before he mysteriously disappeared. 
Separately, Kriangkrai Cheechuang of the Karen Network for Culture and Environment yesterday dismissed a claim by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) that Karen people had been cutting down trees in the forest with automatic saws. 
“The Karen do not have such heavy equipment,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a move to have the case ready for consideration by the Special Case Committee next week, officials from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) went to Kaeng Krachan to gather more information about the Karen-Thai people’s plight and Billy’s disappearance. 
This follows the release of a video clip showing Kaeng Krachan National Park officials allegedly felling trees filmed by Billy before he disappeared.
In another report, the Protected Areas Regional Office 3 has said it will set up a committee to look into the alleged logging in a week. 
Billy reportedly wanted to use this clip as evidence of officials’ abuse of authority to back his allegation that park officials were forcing 20 Karen families living in upper Bang Kloy to move to lower Bang Kloy in July 2011. The area in question was incorporated in Kaeng Krachan National Park in 1981. 
Then-Kaeng Krachan park chief Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn has denied using “heavy” techniques and insisted that the Karen encroached upon the forest. 
Surapong Kongchanthuk from the Lawyers’ Council of Thailand, meanwhile, confirmed that Billy had indeed taken the clip, which showed men wearing T-shirts that are reportedly only issued to park officials felling trees.
He said Billy always carried the clip in a USB flash drive and had copied it and photos onto a computer at home, which were later forwarded to him by Pinnapa. Inquiries by the lawyer’s team confirmed that park officials’ illegal logging, he said, adding the clip might have had something to do with Billy’s disappearance. 
“I can’t confirm if the officials knew about Billy having the clip before he disappeared,” he said.
Investigation into Billy’s disappearance has been slow and, so far, no charges have been filed. So the council called on the DSI to take up the case of Billy going missing and the violation of Bang Kloy residents’ rights. 
“We want the police and the DNP to look into the logging allegation as well as other incidents that stemmed from conflicts between the Karen villagers and park officials,” he said. 
Pinnapa said she was certain Billy’s disappearance stemmed from the help he had extended to the upper Bang Kloy villagers, adding that the Karen would feel unsafe if Chaiwat remained in Phetchaburi. 
DSI officials have been working with local police to look up case reports, and contacted the lawyers’ team and TV news stations for the photos and video clip. They have also found images showing logs being transported out of the park area. 
Pol Lt-General Kornwat Parnprapakorn, chief of the DSI special operation division, said DSI officials should be able to table all facts about Billy’s disappearance and alleged human-rights violations to the Special Case Committee for consideration next week. 
Saratcha Suriyakul na Ayudhaya, director of the Protected Areas Regional Office 3, said that though the clothing of the individuals in the clip suggested they were park officials, the office-assigned committee still had to determine if the action was a legal move or a deliberate violation of the law. 
Park regulations allow officials and state agencies to utilise fallen trees to repair state property, he said. However, if they were found to have processed logs without permission or for official use, then they would be punished severely and their supervisor at the time would also be held accountable. 
Saratcha said police had discovered some phone records before and after Billy disappeared, which may help with the investigation. 
Meanwhile, Wut Boonlert, coordinator of the Western Thailand NGO, said the conflict in Kaeng Krachan stemmed from the state agency’s failure to implement the forest-management policy, and moves by Billy and villagers to protect their rights. He said the state agency needed to adjust its attitude and approach, citing Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary as an area where five or six communities live harmoniously with wildlife.