Karen key to Unesco dream

Karen key to Unesco dream

Next month, Thai delegates will chance their arm again at securing Unesco World Heritage site status for the scandal ridden Kaeng Krachan National Park.

The government has been trying since 2015 to have the park -- known as one of the most biodiverse in the country -- bestowed with the prestigious title. Yet, despite its good ecological condition -- a bountiful 2.9 million rai forest that spans Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan with a further forest corridor connecting with those in Myanmar -- the country's largest national park has already been rejected three times.

There have generally been two main concerns cited with each successive pushback. The first being a long-running concern with Myanmar over the exact boundary of the park, and the second over repeated human rights violations against indigenous Karen villagers that have given the park a bad name among some groups.

The brutal 2011 eviction of one such community, which had been peacefully residing in the area long before it was ever declared a national park, culminated with lawsuits against then park chief, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn who had sanctioned the torching of family homes.

Mr Chaiwat was finally fired from the role this year after repeated pressure from rights groups over the 2011 incident, as well as the recommendation of the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.

Mr Chaiwat's name became synonymous with the state's lack of concern for human rights and local land rights.

Even now, tensions are still simmering after Karen villagers launched the SaveBangKloi campaign over local land rights after they resettled in the areas where their ancestors had lived, only to be arrested for trespassing. It was a further black mark against the name of the national park.

Over the years, human rights groups have sent petitions to Unesco urging it to reject Thailand's proposal. In 2020, the committee rejected the Thai proposal with specific reference to the land participation issue.

However, Thai authorities have yet to give up and this year reached agreement over the border with Myanmar, clearing one obstacle to the park's status.

Indeed, with the Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee being held in Fuzhou, China next month, there is renewed optimism that cordial ties between the two countries may help turn the tide in Thailand's favour this year.

However, these aspirations may yet be dashed after rights groups submitted petitions on behalf of the Karen to the Unesco committee in January and March.

Mechtild Rössler, a director of the Unesco World Heritage Centre and the Heritage Division accepted the letter, acknowledging the plight of the Karen people and the concerns they have raised.

It has been reported that the petition has now been forwarded to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the committee responsible for overseeing World Heritage applications.

Now is the time for the Thai authorities to realise that without solving the land rights issues and coming to a long-term understanding with the Karen people, that its dream of Unesco World Heritage status might never be realised.

Kaeng Krachan National Park should not achieve world heritage status before it is recognised as also being the heritage of the indigenous Thai and Karen communities that have called the park their home for so long.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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