Protest at Government House calls for justice for indigenous Karen community

Members of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community and the activist Save Bang Kloi Coalition have gathered at the Chamai Maruchet Bridge for the past three days to demand protection for members of the Bang Kloi Community who returned to their ancestral home.

In early January 2021, 60 – 70 people from the Bang Kloi community travelled back to the former location of the Chai Phaen Din village, the community’s ancestral home in the Kaeng Krachan forest. The community was forcibly evacuated from Chai Phaen Din in 1996, and for a second time in 2011, when park officials burned down their houses and rice storage barns.

At the time, the authorities promised the community that each family would be allocated 7 rai of land in Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, where they were relocated. However, they were not allocated the promised amount of land, and the land they were given is not suitable for agriculture. The Covid-19 pandemic has also made their situation worse, as many community members who leave the village to work lost their income, leading to the decision to travel to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional ways.

Kriangkrai Cheechuang

Kriangkrai Cheechuang, coordinator for the Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Tanao Sri region (KNCE), said that in recent weeks, the authorities had been blocking the transportation of food to Chai Phaen Din, and that during the past few days, the phone signal in Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village was periodically cut. Park officials, police and military officers were also stationed at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, and had been patrolling the area every day. Officials were asking for names and whereabouts of community leaders, and tried to block community members from coming to Bangkok to join the protest.

The community members and their supporters therefore gathered in front of Government House to demand that the authorities stop intimidating the community and immediately remove the police and military officers stationed in the village. They also demanded that the authorities allow food to be transported to community members at Chai Phaen Din, and to speed up the negotiation process to solve the problems facing the community.

They are also calling for the authorities to end the legal charges against 10 people who have been charged with joining a gathering in front of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on 5 February 2021, during which a small clash occurred between the participants and riot control police, who attempted to seize the participants’ banners and tried to arrest one of the participants.

Thammanat Prompao, the Agriculture and Cooperatives Deputy Minister, came to receive the petition and promised to make sure that the demands were met, and that the authorities would not press charges against people who join the protest at Government House. He then made a phone call to the Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Varawut Silpa-archa, to ask him to order park officials, police, and military officers stationed at Pong Luek – Bang Kloi village to leave the area.

Natthapong Phukaew from the Commoner Band performed with a group of percussionists during the protest at the Chamai Maruchet Bridge

The protesters continued staying by the Chamai Maruchet Bridge and built a traditional Karen house as a symbol that they would continue protesting until they receive concrete answers from the government.

During the protest, a team from the Cross Cultural Foundation and iLaw set up a table where people can support the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand bill, which proposes to set up a formal indigenous peoples’ council to give Thailand’s indigenous population the opportunity to resolve community rights issues in ways that are suitable to their way of life.

Thai citizens over 18 years old who would like to back the bill can still do so by sending the necessary documents along with a copy of their ID card to the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (CIPT) in San Sai District, Chiang Mai, before 15 March 2021.

The community members and their supporters also wrote an MOU on the issues facing the community at Bang Kloi and Chai Phaen Din, and asked to have it signed by Thammanat, Varawut, and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.

In addition to the three urgent demands made at the protest, the MOU also proposed that, in order to solve the issues facing the community in ways that would develop the community’s quality of life as well as preserve the environment, the government must allow the community to return to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional ways and must protect their rights to do so.

The government must also follow the policy guideline stated in the 2010 cabinet resolution on the recovery of the Karen people’s way of life, especially ending the legal prosecution of community members and protecting rotational farming land.

The MOU states tha, for community members who wish to stay at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village, the authorities must allocate enough land to live and farm so that they can live securely. The authorities must also order officers stationed at the village to stop patrolling and setting up checkpoints, which is intimidating to community members, and must ensure community members’ safety. 

The MOU was signed and returned to the community members on Tuesday (16 February), the second day of the protest. Those who came from Bang Kloi left the next morning (17 February).

However, it was reported at 17.00 on Wednesday (17 February) that community members returning from Bangkok were stopped at a checkpoint by military and park officials, and were told to register their personal details or they would not be allowed to enter the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village.

The Northern Development Foundation reported that, according to community members, military officers have not previously been present at checkpoints, and they had never been asked to give personal details before returning to their village.

This caused concerns as the group has to travel for 3 hours to get to Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village from the checkpoint, during which there is no phone signal. At 20.45, it was reported that every community member had arrived safely at Pong Luek – Bang Kloi village.

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