Activist goes missing amid land dispute

Activist goes missing amid land dispute

A land rights activist and community head embroiled in an encroachment eviction row has disappeared after last being seen walking with his dogs in Chaiyaphum's Khon San district.

Den Khamlae, 66, a campaigner for land rights for the poor in Chaiyaphum province, has not been seen since entering Kok Yao forest near his home on Saturday, his wife Suphap Khamlae said yesterday.

Mr Den went to the forest with his two dogs to look for bamboo shoots to sell in a local market, she said.

The dogs returned home in the evening but her husband did not come back with them, Ms Suphap said.

A search by neighbours for the missing man on Sunday failed to find him.

Ms Suphap said she reported her husband's disappearance to local police and forest officials in Khon San district.

She said she asked them to find her husband but was told the part of the forest where Mr Den went missing was not under their jurisdiction.

Ms Suphap said she then asked other forest officials at Phukhieo Wildlife Sanctuary to help. They conducted a search on Monday but failed to locate her husband.

Mr Den's disappearance comes shortly after forest and military officials circulated copies of a court writ among Kok Yao community residents. The writ, dated March 10, ordered Kok Yao residents to vacate their homes within eight days because the properties encroached on the Phu Sum Puk Nam Sanctuary in Chaiyaphum.

Affected residents led by Mr Den had sought help from state agencies to overturn the court order and allow residents to continue using the land until a resolution to the dispute was found.

Mr Den, who is head of the Kok Yao community, began growing eucalyptus trees in tambon Tung Lui Lai in Khon San years before the land which he and other farmers occupied was declared part of the Phu Sum Puk Nam Sanctuary in 1973.

In 1985, government officials forced residents and Mr Den to relocate, promising to provide them with new land.

But residents then found out that land which officials had allocated to them was already occupied by other residents. The residents, however, settled near Kok Yao forest and vowed to stay put, arguing that with the land intended for them already occupied, they had nowhere else to go.

Mr Den was charged with encroachment in 2011, imprisoned and released on bail in 2013.

He was preparing to fight his case in the Supreme Court when he disappeared.

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