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DISAPPEARANCE

Senior park official faces probe

Kaeng krachan national park chief to be moved if investigators find him guilty

A NATIONAL PARK CHIEF, whose name has been linked to the recent disappearance of a prominent Karen activist, is now facing investigation by his supervising agency.

"I have already set up a fact-finding committee to look into the issue," Nipon Chotibal said yesterday as the acting director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

Nipon said he had given the committee 15 days to conclude the probe.

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

Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, who was known to have had conflicts with Billy, was seen with the activist in Phetchaburi before the latter disappeared.

According to Nipon, Chaiwat insisted that he met Billy last Thursday only to ask him about the wild-bee honey he had in his possession.

"Chaiwat said that Billy was allowed to return home after the questioning. He has university-student trainees as witnesses," Nipon said, adding that Chaiwat would be transferred if found guilty.

However, several organisations believe that Chaiwat should be transferred first to facilitate a fair and transparent investigation.

Police are also looking into Billy's disappearance.

"If the investigation does not progress in a reasonable manner, we will petition to the United Nations Human Rights Council," said a joint statement released by the Karen Network for Culture and Environment, the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand and allied non-governmental organisations.

They suspect that Billy's role in filing a lawsuit against Chaiwat and the DNP may have something to do with his disappearance. Three years ago, officials set fire to the homes of Karen villagers living in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, and Billy helped the villagers take their case to the Administrative Court.

Billy is scheduled to testify in court on May 19.



Appeal to Yingluck

Representatives of the Karen peoples' networks and other organisations yesterday handed a letter addressed to caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to the Chiang Mai governor, in which they demanded that Billy be located as soon as possible and the culprits be brought to justice. They also asked for Billy's family to be provided with protection.

Phetchaburi police chief Maj-General Phirachart Ruenrerng said he had assigned his deputy Colonel Surasak Suksawaeng to lead an investigation into the case.

"We are scouring target areas in the Kaeng Krachan district in a bid to locate him," he said.

Maj-General Pairoj Thongma-eng, chief of the 9th Infantry Division, said he had ordered a special taskforce to patrol Kaeng Krachan National Park's areas to facilitate the search for Billy.




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