Unesco has added the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex in Western Thailand to the World Heritage List hours after a protest against it was held in Bangkok.
At its 44th meeting held through a teleconference of representatives from 21 countries on Monday, the Unesco World Heritage Committee voted 12-9 to approve the listing of the forest complex in Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces. The meeting was put off from last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The decision was widely watched because a small part of it is home to the Bang Kloi Karen minority group, who has been living there since at least 1912, according to a military map in that year.
Authorities have tried to move the villagers to another place outside a reserved forest but they have refused, saying it is their home for generations.
Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said after Monday’s vote the decision was a gift to Thais. He thanked all agencies, as well as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, for their support.
He did not mention the minority group, especially Bang Kloi villagers, who had been the target of at least two operations aimed at relocating them — Pitak Lum Nam Phet and Tanao Sri.
For the Tanaosri operation, the Central Administrative Court ruled that officials had not complied with established guidelines and a 2010 cabinet resolution.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation was ordered to pay 50,000 baht in compensation to six damaged parties as a result.
Thailand had nominated the listing twice. In 2019, the committee told it to address the human rights violation issues first before proceeding.
Before the Unesco decision came on Monday, the “Save Bang Kloi” network went to the Natural Resources and the Environment Ministry in Bangkok.
It held the “World Heritage, Blood Heritage” activity and read a statement against the listing, citing at least two deaths of its campaigners. They subsequently threw red paint on the nameplate of the ministry.
Karen rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, a grandson of Kor Ee, a former spiritual leader of the Bang Kloi villager, and Tatklom Ob-om, a former Pheu Thai MP candidate, died campaigning against involuntary resettlement of the villagers.
There was no progress on the death of Tatklom. In the Billy case, the trial is ongoing, with Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, a former chief of the Kaeng Krachan National Park during 2008-14, being one of the suspects.