Saturday, September 21, 2019

Murder investigation opened as DSI interviews Karen activist’s relatives

Sep 04. 2019
File Photo: (Right) Pol Lt Colonel Chen Kanchanapat and (Left) Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn
File Photo: (Right) Pol Lt Colonel Chen Kanchanapat and (Left) Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn
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By The Nation

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A team from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) on Wednesday visited Pong Leuk-Bang Kloy village within Kaeng Krachan national park in Phetchaburi province to interview the relatives of the late Karen activist Polajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen.

Billy, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances five years ago, was confirmed dead on Tuesday following the discovery of his bones in a 200-litre oil drum dumped near a bridge connecting Kaeng Krachan Dam.

The latest development means that this case is now being treated as a murder and a case of body concealment with Billy's mother and his wife being brought into the witness protection programme. Pol Lt Colonel Chen Kanchanapat, director of the DSI’s special operations directorate who is in charge of Billy’s case, led his team to interview Billy's relatives but refused to allow media coverage for fear it would impact the ongoing investigation.

Following Tuesday’s confirmation of Billy's death, Protected Area Regional Office 9 director Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn, who was serving as Kaeng Krachan park chief at the time of Billy's disappearance, submitted a letter to his superviors detailing the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) involvement in the case.

Chaiwat, 55, said that that Billy's wife Pinnapa Prueksaphan had filed a complaint with the court that Chaiwat and four of his subordinates stopped Billy’s motorcycle and apprehended the young Karen man on April 17, 2014 at a park checkpoint for alleged illegal collection of wild honeycomb and honey from the forest. The officials claimed to have released him but Billy was never seen again, convincing Pinnapa that Chaiwat had detained him illegally. She requested a court order to have Chaiwat release Billy and the DNP to pay compensation. Chaiwat's letter said Pinnapa's lawsuit for illegal detention of Billy went through three courts – two lower courts and the Supreme Court – but all dismissed the case against Chaiwat

Billy was known to have a dispute with Chaiwat as the young activist encouraged ethnic Karen people living in the park to file a complaint against the official over alleged abuses. Park officials have consistently insisted that they had detained Billy for questioning only briefly and released him without charge. Billy's wife Pinnapa , however, lodged complaints with several agencies holding park officials responsible for her husband’s disappearance, resulting in investigations which did not make any significant progress in the case.

DSI confirmed on Tuesday that Billy had been killed although investigators have yet to determine how. The agency confirmed the mitochondrial DNA test result on a human skull bone piece (one of two bone pieces) found inside the 200-litre oil drum showed it was Billy’s as it matched the DNA sample given by Billy's biological mother. Twenty pieces of bone from the area also were being tested.

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