Activists say WHS bid will fail

Activists say WHS bid will fail

Karen villagers want land issues solved

A Karen villager shows a book titled 'Jai Pandin, Pandin Klang Jai Karen Kaeng Krachan' (The Heart of the Land, The Land in the Heart of the Karen in Kaeng Krachan) unveiled at a forum to discuss the government's application to list Kaeng Krachan national park as a World Heritage Site at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)
A Karen villager shows a book titled 'Jai Pandin, Pandin Klang Jai Karen Kaeng Krachan' (The Heart of the Land, The Land in the Heart of the Karen in Kaeng Krachan) unveiled at a forum to discuss the government's application to list Kaeng Krachan national park as a World Heritage Site at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)

Human rights activists say the forest reserve in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi will not be listed as a World Heritage Site (WHS) because the government has failed to recognise the cultural identity of the ethnic Karen villagers who live there.

The criticism comes as the United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) World Heritage Committee is due to convene in Baku, Azerbaijan tomorrow for its 43rd session. The sessions will run until July 10.

Human rights lawyer, Surapong Kongchantuek, said the government must have the consent of the communities living within the forest for a site to be considered, which means listing is unlikely.

In March, villagers from Ban Pong Luek and Bang Kloy, located within the forest reserve, asked the government to shelve the proposal because the government "overlooked the cultural identity of the Karen villagers".

Mr Surapong also criticised the government for failing to solve long-standing land rights disputes with local communities, which resulted in the forced eviction of Karen villagers from Bang Kloy Bon and Jai Pandin.

"The government must talk to the villagers and solve the ongoing land dispute before they propose the site as a World Heritage site candidate," he told a forum at Chulalongkorn University on Wednesday.

Nirand Pongthep, a Karen resident, said his community has been living in the forest for over a century -- long before the government declared the area a national park in 1981.

"We were told to move 50km away from our homes in Jai Pandin and Bang Kloy Bon to Ban Pong Luek and Bang Kloy," he said.

Sunee Chairos, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, said any proposal for recognition as a WHS must include the unique cultural heritage of the Karen, who have lived in harmony with nature for generations.

She said the government should go back to the drawing board and clear up the land rights issue with the Karen in the area.

Wut Boonlert, the Karen adviser to the Karen Network for Culture and Environment in Western Region, said the national park should not be listed until the Karen culture and their attachment to the land are respected.

Raweewan Phuridet, secretary-general of the Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, said the government has addressed questions raised by the World Heritage Committee regarding the rights to inhabit the forest reserve in question. It was unclear how much progress the proposal had made.

The secretary-general assured the Karen villagers in Kaeng Krachan National Park have the state's support to continue living within the forest limits, before adding that attempts to solve land rights issues are "currently ongoing".


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