Karen minority complains on junta’s ‘return forest’ policy

After being threatened by the junta’s policy to reclaim National Park lands, Karen villagers who have been living in the forest for generations filed a complaint to the authorities to stop confiscating their land.    

Approximately 60 Karen tribe representatives from Mae Hong Son, the mountainous northern province, on Tuesday submitted a complaint to the Damrongtham Centre, an agency established by the Ministry of Interior to accept complaints, in Mae Hong Son provincial hall to request the junta to revise its forest protection policy.

These Karen communities are some of many landless and other minority communities countrywide that have been affected by Order 64/2557 of the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which stipulates that the authorities shall apply legal measures to prevent encroachment of National Parks.

The talk between Karen representatives and relevant civil servants of Mae Hong Sorn province

Although Karen tribes have never legally been permitted to settle in protected areas, it is known that their traditional livelihoods rely on the forest. Therefore, the Royal Forest Department (RFD) were restrained from evicting them from the forest. This, however, has changed after the junta announced its new conservation policy for protected areas.

According to Tawee Paitaimongkolboon, Pakakayaw Karen village chief of Mae Ngao in Mae Hong Son Province, three plots of lands in his village have been reclaimed by the RFD on 24 July and three families have been left without land to cultivate for food. Many other Karen villagers are now fearing that they might also be evicted from their lands.

A 2.4 acres of farmland that had been cultivated by the Karen, but has been confiscate by the Foresty Department. The sign attached by the authority says this plot of land has been confiscated and no one can possess it since 24 July 2014

The Karen representatives stated in the petition that the authorities should turn their attention to capitalists and government officials who have also illegally made use of national park lands in the area to practice monoculture farming for profit, unlike the Karen tribes who have been practicing sustainable farming in the forests for generations.  

Karen farmland next to Mai Ngao river that has been left to recover after the soil had been exhausted by farming activities

After the complaint was submitted on Tuesday, a talk was held between the Karen representatives and the Mae Hong Son Governor, Kamthon Thawonsathit. The Governor promised the Karen that a committee comprising relevant government officials and Karen representatives will be set up to find solutions to the problem, but no timeframe has been set.