Avert violence at Bang Kloi
Violence is looming at Kaeng Krachan National Park. Despite the government's promises to indigenous forest dwellers to pull out armed personnel from the park, new fears and uncertainties have emerged, along with fresh signs of an imminent crackdown by forest officials.
The official promise was signed by the Minister of National Resources and the Environment, Varawut Silpa-archa, along with the ministry's permanent secretary Chatuporn Burutpat, the director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Thanya Netithammakul -- and the all-powerful Thamanat Prompow in his capacity as Deputy Agriculture Minister and vice-chair of a joint panel working with P-Move to tackle land disputes.
If a crackdown occurs, these big bosses will be remembered as a bunch of liars.
The official agreement followed the #SaveBangKloi protest in front of Government House last week, which came after forest authorities declared war against the area's indigenous people by blocking aid and food access to the village. The move was part of the officials' scheme to crack down on the protesters, who had decided to return to their ancestral home, Jai Paen Din, after 25 years of misery following forced resettlement.
Their plight is well-known to the public. Living in isolation deep in the forest, the Karen of Jai Paen Din are among indigenous forest dwellers in Thailand, practising subsistence living that is in harmony with nature.
In 1996, park authorities forced them to move to a new village downstream. They promised the villagers enough farmland to live off from, as well as the right to return home if the promise turned out to be empty.
It was. Ten years later, a group of forest dwellers decided to head home. Then-park chief Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn punished them by torching their huts and rice barns and slandering them as illegal immigrants and drug traffickers who were destroying the forest.
One human rights defender was shot dead after fighting for the forest dwellers' rights. Another was abducted and killed. The controversial official was implicated in both cases, but not convicted -- in fact, he continued to rise to higher ranks.
Despite the government's promise to withdraw armed personnel and discuss the prospect of sustainable farming with the forest dwellers who want to return, the betrayal started from day one.
First, a group of armed personnel tried to stop the forest dwellers from returning to the national park after their protest in Bangkok. Then, Mr Varawut declared the watershed forest at Jai Paen Din was being razed by the villagers. The forest dwellers argued they were only clearing old farm plots to prepare them for crop rotation.
Yesterday, the so-called "Save the Phetchaburi Watershed" operation began. Activists in Kaeng Krachan said some 100 armed personnel boarded helicopters and were heading for Jai Paen Din for a crackdown.
The scene was reminiscent of the state violence in 2011. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled it an illegal overreach of power, but park authorities could not care less. They have now fixed the national park law to give them the power to destroy any dwellings in the forest.
The dictatorial forest laws must be revoked. They violate human rights as well as the constitution which honours communities' rights to manage local natural resources.
If we are indifferent to the injustice against the Kaeng Krachan Karen, there is little chance of stopping the autocratic bureaucracy from violating our rights too.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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