Park authorities not guilty of burning homes of Karen villagers, court says

The Administrative Court of Thailand has acquitted National Park authorities accused of burning down the houses of a Karen ethnic minority village in an attempt to evict them, saying that the Karen encroached into protected areas.    

According to the Daily News, the Central Administrative Court at 10 am on Monday, 8 February 2016, acquitted the Department of National Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of malfeasance charges.

The two public agencies were accused by No-ae Meemi, a Karen villager, of malfeasance after officers of Kaeng Krachan National Park forcibly evicted and burned the houses of Karen villagers in Pong Luk Bang Kloy in Phetchaburi in May 2011.

The court ruled that despite the fact that the cabinet resolution in 2010 stipulates that Karen villagers could stay in National Park areas, the resolution does not give rights to Karen villagers to settle on virgin territory inside National Parks. Therefore, the measures of the Kaeng Krachan National Park authorities were justified because the Karen villagers had illegally encroached into protected areas of the park.

The court, however, ordered the public agencies to pay the accuser 10,000 baht in compensation for the loss of his property.

Thanu Ekachot, No-ae’s lawyer, said that he will consult with his legal team whether to submit a request to appeal the ruling, saying that the Karen villagers did not encroach into virgin territory of the park, but only stayed on the plot where they were originally allowed to stay.

The lawyer added that his client initially demanded 1,000,000 baht compensation from the authorities for losing his house in the fire along with many other belongings.

Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, former Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park, also said that he will submit an appeal request against the court’s ruling, saying that the Karen villagers broke the law because they encroached into a protected area and that public agencies should not compensate them.

Last month, the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) took up charges against Chaiwat after Pol Col Chalit Katesrimek, Head of Kaeng Krachan Police Station, sent a case file on corruption and malfeasance charges against him to the PACC.

According to Koi Meemi, a Karen leader of Pong Luk Bang Kloy who filed charges against him, Chaiwat and armed park officials in May 2011 came to his village to evict Karen villagers from the park area before setting their houses on fire.

He added that the park officers ordered him to leave his house immediately during the eviction. When he said that he could not do so because he is blind and has nowhere to go, the armed park officers forcefully detained him and put him in a helicopter.

In addition to the allegations of setting fire to the Karen village in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat is also a prime suspect of the enforced disappearance of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (aka Billy), 30, a Karen human and community rights activist.

Billy has been missing since 17 May 2014. He was arrested and unlawfully detained by Chaiwat regarding a wild bee honeycomb and six bottles of honey allegedly found in his possession before he disappeared.

The Karen activist’s disappearance came three years after he assisted Karen villagers of Pong Luk Bang Kloy to file a lawsuit against Chaiwat in the Administrative Court.

Shortly after his disappearance, Pinnapha Phrueksapan, Billy’s wife, requested the court to hold an emergency trial under Article 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code to investigate his alleged unlawful detention. However, the Court of First Instance later ruled that evidence of the unlawful detention of Billy was insufficient.