Karen activist feared disappeared in Thailand

Missing man involved in land rights lawsuit against government
ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok
Thailand
April 21, 2014
Human Rights Watch is calling on Thai authorities to investigate the whereabouts of a Karen land rights activist who disappeared after reportedly being arrested on April 17.

Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen was arrested in Kaengkrachan National Park in Petchaburi province and released, but his current whereabouts are unknown, Human Rights Watch said in an April 20 statement.

Rakcharoen was involved in a lawsuit against park and government officials over land rights.

"The apparent disappearance of this prominent Karen activist demands an immediate government response," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Thai authorities should not stay silent about [Rakcharoen's] case but explain what happened to him."

The head of the Kaengkrachan National Park Office, Chaiwat Limlikitaksor, told local activists on April 18 that Rakcharoen had been detained at a checkpoint the previous afternoon for possessing illegal wild honey, the statement said. Chaiwat also said Rakcharoen had been released after questioning and that he had no information regarding his whereabouts. 

At the time of his disappearance, Rakcharoen was traveling to Petchaburi province's Kaengkrachan district to meet with ethnic Karen villagers and activists in preparation for an upcoming court hearing in his lawsuit.

The villagers alleged in the lawsuit that in July 2011, Thai authorities were responsible for the destruction and burning of houses and property of more than 20 Karen families who were living in the national park, Human Rights Watch said.

Rakcharoen was believed to have been carrying case files and related documents at the time of his arrest, Human Rights Watch said.

The rights group said Chaiwat was implicated in the 2011 murder of an activist from Rakcharoen's network.

"Despite that, Chaiwat has not been suspended from duty as required under disciplinary regulations regarding officials under criminal investigation. Chaiwat's presence at the national park has been a cause of fear among local activists and villagers, particularly those involved in lawsuits against him," Human Rights Watch said.

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