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Kaeng Krachan National Park chief vows to settle conflict with locals after Unesco snub

Jul 15. 2019
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By The Nation

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The chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park has pledged to settle the conflict between ethnic Karen locals and the authorities, which has been blamed for the park’s failure to be listed as a world-heritage site by Unesco this year.

“The World Heritage Committee said it was cautious about granting world-heritage status to the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex [KKFC] after taking into account the local community’s concerns,” park chief Mana Permpoon said on Monday. “We will address the concerns on the basis of laws and discussions.”

The Unesco committee also took into account the country’s shared border with Myanmar and the park’s shrinking area.

Spanning Ratchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Phetchaburi, the KKFC has in fact been on the committee’s tentative list for world-heritage status since 2011. While Thailand hoped the KKFC, which covers Kaeng Krachan National Park, would officially become a world heritage site this year, the committee resolved not to grant the status yet at its meeting in Azerbaijan earlier this month.

In March, ethnic Karen locals sent a petition to the United Nations urging that world-heritage status should not be granted before Thai authorities settle the conflict.

The petition pointed out that ethnic Karen living in the villages of Ban Jai Paendin and Ban Bang Kloi Bon had long been evicted despite the fact that they settled there before the national park was even established.

While Mana promised to look into the issue, he apparently intended to stand by the current law on national parks. Under this law, no one is allowed to live in a waterhead zone.

“The old villages of these locals are in the waterhead zone,” Mana insisted.

He said he would strive to make the locals understand that after they leave their old settlement, they would enjoy several benefits.

“For example, their livelihood area has increased by between 200 and 400 rai,” he said.

Five years ago, community-rights defender and ethnic Karen activist Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen disappeared. He was last seen being taken into custody by Kaeng Krachan National Park officials.

To date, authorities have not yet been able to nail any culprit behind his disappearance.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is now in charge of the case. When asked about progress in the case, DSI deputy chief Pol Lt Colonel Korrawat Panprapakorn on Monday said it was very difficult to make any breakthrough in the absence of clear evidence, while few people were willing to testify.

“But we have not given up yet. We are in the process of trying to secure important pieces of evidence,” he revealed.

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