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Indigenous community members who returned to ancestral land must be allowed to stay, says CSO network

Following a report that members of the Bang Kloi Karen community have returned to their ancestral land at Chai Phaen Din, the remaining community members and a network of civil society organizations have issued a statement calling for the authorities to allow the community to stay at Chai Phaen Din until a resolution is reached, and must not conduct any operation that affects them. 
 
 
On 29 January, the Northern Development Foundation published a statement from the Bang Kloi Karen indigenous community, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi, the Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri (KNCE), and the People's Movement for Just Society (P-Move), regarding the members of the Bang Kloi Karen community who returned to their ancestral land at Chai Phaen Din, the former location of their village in the Kaeng Krachan forest.
 
The statement said that the community members were prompted to return to Chai Phaen Din because they have been suffering from poverty and land right issues since the first forced evacuation from Chai Phaen Din in 1996. Their situation has also been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. 
 
Many members of the community also did not have Thai citizenship at the time of the first forced evacuation in 1996, and so did not have the opportunity to apply for land. Many of them only received citizenship recently. 
 

The community would also like to perform the final funeral rite for "Grandpa Ko-I" or Ko-I Meemi, the community's spiritual leader who passed away in 2018 at the age of 107. The ceremony requires his descendants to grow rice on the land at Chai Phaen Din and use the rice to feed people who participated in the ceremony.

The commuity's move to Chai Phaen Din caused concerns, especially among the civil society sector, who has demanded that state authorities do not use violence against the community members and that no charges are pressed against them. 

The Bang Kloi community, the KNCE, and P-Move called for the authorities to allow the community members to remain at Chai Phaen Din, at least until a resolution is reached, and must refrain from doing anything that affects them. 

They also called for the authorities to expedite the effort to acquire and allocate land to the affected and landless community members who want to remain at Bang Kloi Lang, as well as the civil registration process to give the community members Thai citizenship. 

A formal joint committee must also be created to oversee, monitor, and expedite the process of solving the community issues, with participation from government agencies, civil society organizations, such as the KNCE and P-Move, and the community members themselves. 

The full statement reads: 

Restore rights and human dignity of Bang Kloy ethnic Karen who want to return to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin

 

The Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri and the People's Movement for Just Society (P-Move) have submitted a letter of petition to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (Mr. Warawut Silpa-Archa) during P-Move demonstrations from 13 - 15 January 2020 regarding the farmland of the villagers at Bang Kloy.

In August 2020, the ethnic Karen at Bang Kloy has also submitted a letter to the Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Strategic Taskforce to request to know progress of the response which prompted Ms. Kanchana Silpa-Archa, the Taskforce’s Advisor, to visit the local area and hear from the community at Bang Kloy. It was revealed how the villagers have been suffering from landlessness and an extremely difficult livelihood. But since then, there is yet to be any progress made by the Taskforce.

​On 8 December 2020, the Bang Kloy villagers have submitted a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation via the Assistant Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (Mr. Noppadon Phonsen) at the Phumen Karen community in Uthaithani hoping for a prompt and concrete action to solve their problems, but there is yet any progress made.

​On 14 January 2021, it has been reported that some members of Bang Kloy Lang community have returned to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin which is their original village before being forcibly evicted in 1996 and 2011 to conduct their rotational farming.

The Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri and the People's Movement for Just Society (P-Move) has thus gone to submit a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation via the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation on 21 January 2021 to propose the formation of a joint-taskforce to conduct fact-finding. Meanwhile any action which may lead to violence and any legal action against the returning villagers should be suspended. Initially, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation should instruct the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and the Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Strategic Taskforce to conduct a fact-finding trip in collaboration with the Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri and P-Move during 26-28 January 2021.

The Taskforce has visited the community and listened to the presentation by the Chief Officer of the Kaeng Krachan National Park (Mr. Mana Permpoon), staff and volunteers from the Pid Thong Land Phra Foundation and the affected villagers of Bang Kloy. Some basic facts could be established as follows;

1. The Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pendin ethnic Karen community is a traditional community which has settled there at least since 1912 according to the maps of the Royal Thai Survey Department. In addition, the ID card of Mr. Ko-I Mimi, the late spiritual leader of Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin, indicated that he was born in 1911, 30 years before the promulgation of the first forestry law and 50 years before the promulgation of the first national park law. Other evidence overwhelmingly attests to how the Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin ethnic Karen community has long settled there.

2. After the migration in 1996, although some villagers were offered land and were able to get adapted to life in a resettlement area, others found it not possible to get adapted and live in the resettlement site. In addition, several villagers have not been allocated farmland and residential land since they have moved here from 1996-1998 and 2010-2011. According to the interviews of 30 families, about 20 rai of land have been given and shared by three families leaving the other 27 families landless and homeless. They have tried to adapt to this life by working as hired labor inside and outside their community, although it is difficult for them to make their ends meet.

3. Some villagers from Bang Kloy Lang have returned to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin, about 62 of them including 20 children and 15 women, one of whom is pregnant.

4. The reasons that prompt villagers from Bang Kloy Lang to return to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin include.

4.1. Cultural aspect: They were there to perform a ritual to bid farewell to the spirit of Grandpa Ko-I to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin. It was essential that his descendants had to grow rice there and used the rice to feed people who participated in the ceremony. This would make the ceremony complete and the spirit of Grandpa Ko-I shall ascend to heaven according to the belief of the Karen.

4.2. According to some villagers who have moved down since 1996, they have been allocated no land for farming and living for over 20 years. In abject poverty, they earn meagerly from working as hired labor. It does not help them to make their ends meet. It got even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, they have decided to return to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin to conduct rotational farming in their existing plantation area.

5. Quality of life development and skill training: It has been found that the villagers who have returned to Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin have no access to support from any agency, particularly in terms of farming skill training since they have no land for farming and living. They only earn about 20,000-30,000 baht per year.

6. When they were first resettled in 1996, most of them had no Thai nationality. As a result, they lacked the opportunity to apply for permission to own the land for their farming and living since thy dared not identify themselves and asked for help due to their lack of nationality. They have only received Thai nationality lately.

The Taskforce has the following opinions and recommendations to remedy and restore human dignity of the villagers at Bang Kloy as follows.

1. Allow the affected villagers who want to return to conduct their traditional rotation farming in their ancestral land in Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin to do so. They should be at least allowed to return and live there until the problems are resolved. Meanwhile, the state shall refrain from doing anything that affects them.

2. Urgently expedite the effort to acquire and allocate land to the affected and landless villagers who have no land to till and to live and want to remain living in the Bang Kloy Lang with a clear and certain goal, process, and timeframe.

3. Concerned authorities should expedite the civil registration process to bestow on the villagers of Bang Kloy Thai nationality.

4. Create a mechanism to document and compile information from the people affected by a lack of residential and farmland with participation from all sectors including the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, academic institutes including the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology, Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University and the affected people including Bang Kloy villagers.

5. Set up a formal joint committee to oversee, monitor, expedite the efforts per 1 – 4. Such committee shall be composed of the Permanent Secretary or Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry as Chairperson, Directors General of the Department of National Park and the Department of Provincial Administration, the Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri, the People's Movement for Just Society (P-Move) and representatives from the affected Bang Kloy community.

With belief and faith in people’s power

Karen Community of Ban Bang Kloy, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi

Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri

People's Movement for Just Society (P-Move)

28 January 2021

At Bang Kloy Lang, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi

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