“This is the only property my parents left me, for me to make a living. If they seize this land, then what am I going to do? This is all I have.”
In 2018, Wansao Phungam, a Karen indigenous villager from Tha Salao, Nong Ya Plong District, Phetchaburi province, was charged with encroaching on Kaeng Krachan National Park land.
The Court of First Instance ruled that she was guilty of encroaching on national park land and sentenced her to 3 years and 8 months in prison and a fine of 2,124,060 baht, as well as ordering all constructions to be removed from the land.
“A fine of over 2 million baht is too much for a villager charged with encroaching on a national park. It’s understandable if it’s an investor,” said Rangsee Limpichotikul, a local reporter who has been covering community rights issues in the area.
Wansao said that the land in question was a property passed down within her family, and that she and other villagers know of the original national park boundary, as drawn when Kaeng Krachan was declared a national park in 1981. She said that they have never trespassed beyond that boundary.
However, the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) re-drew the boundary line, claiming that the original line is not academically correct. In 2015, the cabinet, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, also started the ‘One Map’ project, in which new maps were made by government agencies so that every agency uses the same map.
Park authorities consider the new boundary the official one, and in the new map, Wansao’s land was included in national park area.
Meanwhile, the villagers are protesting against the new boundary, and refused to enter a government scheme to prove their right to make a living off of national park land, as to do so would mean accepting that their land is part of the national park.
And even though the 2019 National Park Act allows villagers to continue to live on land that have been included in a national park area on the condition that they stay on that piece of land and not expand to other areas, but Wansao and her fellow villagers are still unsure about what would happen to their children, should the law change.