Park officials escape summons in Porlajee case

Park officials escape summons in Porlajee case

Pinnapa Pruksapan, widow of Karen rights activist Porlajee
Pinnapa Pruksapan, widow of Karen rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, embraces Department of Special Investigation deputy chief Pol Col Lt Korrawat Panprapakorn as she thanks the agency for its probe into Porlajee’s death on Sept 16. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) will summon 20 witnesses for interviews over the murder of Karen rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, DSI deputy director-general Korrawat Panprapakorn said on Monday.

He said some of the 20 witnesses have already given statements to the DSI. However, the witnesses summoned do not include the five national park officials allegedly implicated in the activist's murder. 

Police say 80% of the investigation has been completed, after the DSI dispatched teams to carry out on-site inspections and search for evidence, including Porlajee's personal belongings. No such evidence has been recovered. 

Pol Lt Col Korrawat said he and DSI chief Paisit Wongmuang will visit the Kaeng Krachan National Park on Thursday and take a helicopter to get an aerial view of spots where Porlajee might have been taken before he was killed.  

Porlajee was last seen on April 17, 2014 in the custody of state officials. At the time of his arrest, he was helping his relatives, a group of ethnic Karen, to sue Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, for setting fire to their bamboo huts and rice barns during a series of forest evictions.

Mr Chaiwat later claimed Porlajee was arrested for collecting wild honey, but was released after a warning.

Mr Chaiwat and his team faced a murder charge related to Porlajee’s disappearance but were eventually acquitted due to a lack of evidence.

On April 26 and May 22-24, Border Patrol Police divers coupled with a sonar-equipped underwater drone from King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok combed an area of the Kaeng Krachan reservoir under a rope bridge.

They found an oil barrel, its lid, two steel rods, a burnt piece of wood and two bone fragments. The Central Institute of Forensic Science found that one of the fragments was a piece of a human skull, which had been burned, cracked and shrunk due to exposure to temperatures of 200-300 degrees Celsius. DNA tests confirmed a match with Porlajee's mother, leading to the assumption that the bones were Porlajee's and he had been murdered.

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