Karen elder Ko-ee Mimee died at the age of 107 early Friday morning, just two months after finally being granted Thai citizenship but having lost a long legal fight to return home to the heart of Kaeng Krachan National Park.
TransborderNews reported that Ko-ee died at 4.14am of a lung infection at Phra Chom Klao Hospital in Muang district of Phetchaburi province. He had been admitted there last Sunday after being unable to eat and then losing consciousness.
He was born in 1911 in the forest where Phetchaburi and Ratchaburi provinces adjoin. He had been a hunter and a guide for visitors from Bangkok who loved forest trekking and hunting, Transborder News reported.
His birthplace was deep in pristine jungle on the Phetchaburi side that became part of Kaeng Krachan National Park in 1981. The designation of the area as a park under the National Parks Act, promulgated in 1961, cost him and other Karen ethic villagers the right to stay there.
Because Thailand was to later nominate Kaeng Krachan as a Unesco World Heritage site, the old man and his neighbours were forcibly evicted by park officials.
In an excessively heavy handed raid in 2011, the park team burned down the old man's bamboo hut and rice barn before bundling him on a helicopter and taking him to a resettlement village in Kaeng Krachan district, where there was no fertile land to till.
In his fight to be able to return home, the old man went through several legal battles.
In March the Supreme Administrative Court ruled out his people's right to return to their community in the pristine forest because they had no land right documents. The court did order authorities to pay 10,000 baht each in compensation to Ko-ee and five other Karen for destroying their belongings during the surprise raid.
At the start of August the Interior Ministry issued Koo-ee a Thai ID card. It validates his claim he was born on Thai soil and contradicts claims by state officials that he and his forest people were illegal immigrants from Myanmar.