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Evicted Thai Karen Christians cannot return to ancestral land

Ethnic minority villagers are in limbo after being turfed out of a national park in 2011

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: March 17, 2021 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: March 18, 2021 06:59 AM GMT

Evicted Thai Karen Christians cannot return to ancestral land

The plight of Karen villagers has garnered attention in Thailand, especially after Karen activist Porlajee 'Billy' Rakchongcharoen was found to have been murdered in 2014. (Photo supplied)

Ethnic minority Karen Christians who were evicted by force from their ancestral land inside a protected nature reserve will not be allowed to return to their homes, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said.

The villagers were forced to leave their wooden homes in 2011 after officials in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province burned their homes and rice barns.

The officials said the indigenous forest dwellers had been encroaching on protected forest and hunting game illegally.

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Over the past decade the villagers have sought to return to their former homes in the villages of Bang Kloi and Jai Paen Din.

Earlier this week, the evicted villagers staged a protest outside Parliament House where they demanded that their rights to live on their ancestral land be respected.

Although Prayut, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014, says he will consider the indigenous people’s demands, he has categorically stated that they will not be allowed to return to live in protected areas within the national park.

“No one will ever be allowed to return to live in Bang Kloi-Jai Paen Din village,” he said. “For those villagers who do not have any farmland, they will be provided with some.”

Some of the Karen villagers recently resettled illegally in Jai Paen Din, deep inside the national park where they have been living for generations and long before the forest was designated a protected national park in 1981.

However, their situation remains precarious as they could be evicted again at short notice.

The plight of the Karen villagers has garnered national attention in Thailand, especially after Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a young Karen man who was a father of five and had been campaigning for his people’s right to stay in the forest, was found to have been murdered in 2014, allegedly by park officials.

His remains were found several years later in an oil drum where his body had been burned. As of yet, none of the park officials implicated in Porlajee’s death have been charged with any crimes in what rights activists say is a clear example of state-sponsored impunity in Thailand.

Earlier this month the United Nations said it would visit the community of Karen people in Kaeng Krachan as part of a fact-finding mission.

At the same time, minority rights activists and environmentalists have been staging regular protests on Bangkok on behalf of the villagers, calling for justice for the beleaguered Karen Christians and demanding that the authorities arrest the alleged murderers of Porlajee.  

“His death should not go unpunished,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“Lack of justice for Billy’s disappearance strongly highlights his family’s struggle with a cycle of violations, from forced eviction and destruction of their property in 2010 and 2011; death threats for seeking redress for these violations; his disappearance in 2014; and failure to provide his family with redress,” the rights group said.

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