By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
Director-general assures 'bad image' won't affect task force.
HUMAN RIGHTS activists yesterday warned that conflicts over land and people's rights will intensify now that Kaeng Krachan National Park chief, who was accused over the abduction of a Karen activist, has been appointed as chief of the forestry task force to battle forest encroachment.
Thanya Nethithammakul, director-general of the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department (DNP), however, insisted that the bad image of newly appointed Phaya Sua (Tiger King) taskforce commander Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn will not affect the unit as Chaiwat has been proven innocent of all charges.
“The unit will directly report to me and will work against all illegal activities that are destroying forests by investigating and arresting suspects with the cooperation of police and soldiers,” he said.
According to Thanya, the Phaya Sua task force’s duty is to work according to the government’s forest-reclamation policy and fight encroachment, illegal logging and the hunting of wild animals, which will target the area in the southern and eastern regions first.
On the other hand, Surapong Kongchantuk, chief of the Karen Studies and Development Centre, pointed out that Chaiwat still faced criminal cases in relation to his involvement in the burning of a Karen village and the disappearance of Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongchaeron.
“Chaiwat has two cases in the Administrative Court and many criminal cases against him for allegedly ordering national park officers to burn down a Karen village in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province and the mysterious disappearance of Billy. Evidence clearly points to Chaiwat being involved in the abduction,” Surapong said.
“His appointment to the new powerful post poses a serious threat to minority communities in the forest. Plus, the support from the DNP director general might make him bold enough to opt for violence again.”
In February, the Administrative Court ordered DNP to give the Karen community Bt10,000 in compensation for the damage done to their property. However, the verdict was appealed and the case is currently with the Supreme Administrative Court. The other criminal cases, meanwhile, are being investigated by the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.
For forest-encroachment cases, the director-general said the unit will first target big players. As for smaller encroachers, if they can prove that they were living in the forest before it became a national park, they will be spared. However, there will be no exemptions for new encroachers, he said.
Meanwhile, Prayong Doklamyai from the People’s Movement for a Just Society voiced concerns, saying that people living in the forest had to face aggression from the DNP taskforce.
“I worry that new conflicts over land-rights issues will erupt again because the authorities usually only rely on law to deal with the forest-encroachment problem and do not consider the people involved,” Prayong said.
“We can see that since the junta issued the forest-reclamation policy, poor people’s property was ravaged and their crops destroyed in order to chase them out of the forest.”
He went on to say that the government should change its stance on increasing the country’s forests by allowing people to take care of the forests instead of forcing them out. Prayong said the forced eviction would only intensify conflicts between people and the state.
It is reported that the DNP has spent Bt142 million on 3,000 shotguns to help rangers protect forests from illegal loggers and wildlife hunters.
Thanya explained that the rangers need the guns to protect themselves against loggers and hunters. “Their safety is the first priority and we are doing this to save the forests for everyone,” he said.