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Friday, May 11, 2012
Forest dweller's fight for justice
People kept staring at No-ae Mimee when he turned up at the Civil Court. And you cannot really blame them.
No-ae's long hair was tied in a bun covered by a red turban. His
lips were reddened and teeth blackened from betel nut chewing. His
cotton shirt looked commonplace, but definitely not the bright blue
loincloth he wore when he was walking barefoot toward the court
Plucked from his mountainous home deep in the Kaeng Krachan forest
where Karen natives are still living in isolation, cut off from the
modern world, the ethnic minority man seemed to have travelled across
time to arrive in Bangkok's concrete jungle.
The 51-year-old forest dweller had a special mission to seek
justice. Not only for his family, but also for other Karen forest
His was among some 100 bamboo huts and rice barns torched and
destroyed by a team of forest officials under a crackdown led by Kaeng
Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn.
The park chief insisted the Karen were slash-and-burn migrants from
Myanmar who grew marijuana and supported ethnic Karen rebels across the
In short, they were a national security threat. Despite the grave
accusations and full-blown eviction operations that involved military
support, No-ae was the only Kaeng Krachan Karen arrested and sent to
He was found guilty of possessing some simple guns, but the court
let him go free on the ground that those guns were necessary for a
forest dweller's way of life.
When investigated by the National Human Rights Commission, the park
chief initially denied the torching. But his testimony was betrayed by
the raid photos taken by his own team.
The Lawyers Council of Thailand is helping No-ae file a lawsuit
after finding the Kaeng Krachan Karen are Thai nationals, that their
farm-rotation system and subsistent living are not harmful to forest
health and that the allegations about marijuana plantations and links
to the rebel army are empty.
"The forest officials also have no legal authority to torch people's
houses and those allegations fan prejudice against indigenous peoples,"
said rights lawyer Surasit Lueng-arannapa.
Why then is No-ae alone in taking the forest authorities to court?
"Others are afraid," he said through an interpreter.
They should be afraid. The Karen rights advocate Tatkamol Ob-om was
shot dead after threatening to expose abuse of power in Kaeng Krachan.
The police arrested the park chief and the murder case is now in court.
An official in a murder case is normally transferred. But not this
park chief. Not even after the police raided his mansion built with
rare teak logs and found more than 100 rounds of M16 rifle ammunition.
Mr Chaiwat reportedly denied the house was his but said the ammunition was for forest protection work.
Nothing happened either when his team took the liberty of destroying
the carcasses of two murdered wild elephants to take their tusks.
For the Karen, life after forced relocation is full of hardship. "At
the new place, no land to till. No rice to eat," he said. They are
relying on donated rice from their Karen brothers and sisters in the
As his lawyer read to him a list of belongings which were destroyed
in the fire, No-ae mumbled to himself: "Beads. Bracelets." Of little
value to outsiders, perhaps, but they were his priceless ancestral
The civil lawsuit asks for 2.6-million-baht compensation for physical and psychological damages.
A reader commented in one online board discussion: "So this guy
wants to get rich suddenly?" The sarcasm reflects widespread ethnic
prejudice that supports state abuse.
"All I want is to return to our home and to live our old way of
life," said No-ae, almost pleading. "Look at me. Do you really think
I'm a threat?"
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