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Missing Billy

Park chief pleads innocence

THE HEAD of Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat Limlikhitak-sorn, who has been linked to the disappearance of prominent Karen activist Pholachi "Billy" Rakchong-charoen, yesterday proposed talks with human-rights groups to plead his innocence over the case.

Chaiwat met with Niphon Chotibal, director-general of the Department of National Parks (DNP), Wildlife and Plant Conservation, to arrange his official transfer to Ratchaburi's Protected Areas Regional Office 3 (Ban Pong). The transfer has been arranged to pave the way for a fair investigation.

Chaiwat said he was ready to talk with Dr Nirand Pitakwatchara, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, Suraphong Klongchanteuk of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, Preu Odecha, a Karen activist, and human-rights agencies to give them his version of the story.

"I personally did not know Billy or have any relationship with him," he said. "I want justice, so that's why we need to talk and put all the facts on the table."

Chaiwat has described himself as a scapegoat for Billy's disappearance on April 17. It is alleged that he was the last person who saw him.

Chaiwat reportedly questioned Billy about wild-bee honey he had in his possession. The case is being investigated by police.

Niphon, meanwhile, said he would punish Chaiwat strongly if evidence proves he was directly linked to Billy's disappearance.

He has ordered Chaiwat to be transferred for 30 days so police can work freely to investigate the case.

The transfer has not pleased everyone, however. In a related development, a group of 10 villagers from Phetchaburi's Bang Kloy and Pong Leuk villages visited the National Resources and Environment Ministry and submitted an open letter asking the ministry's permanent secretary Chote Trachu to remove Chaiwat altogether from his work at DNP.

"Chaiwat still has power to intervene in the investigation, whether he is transferred or not," Preu said.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International Thailand has also submitted a petition to Chote asking him to speed up the process to find Billy. The petition has more than 9,000 signatories from around the world.

"Billy must be freed immediately if he is still being held against his will," stated the Amnesty open letter.




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