Dept sticks by Chaiwat to head panel

Dept sticks by Chaiwat to head panel

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has shrugged off opposition by activists to its appointment of controversial figure Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn as head of a special task force to suppress forest encroachment.

Thanya Nethitammakul, the department's chief, said he is not wiling to change his mind over the appointment of Mr Chaiwat, the former Kaeng Krachan National Park chief, and would go ahead with the task force operation called phaya sua which translates to "king of tigers".

He said his decision to choose Mr Chaiwat was made carefully and the department would have to be fair to him as he was able to clear himself of any accusations in his previous role.

"It is not fair to obstruct him when he has yet to start work in the new job. If his performance is poor, I will select someone to replace him. It comes under my authority to choose people to do the job," he said.

The department on Tuesday announced it would set up the task force on forest and wildlife protection headed by Mr Chaiwat.

The team has the authority to arrest poachers nationwide and comes directly under the department chief.

The move has sparked fierce opposition from human rights and Karen activists, who say Mr Chaiwat has a background of human rights violations.

According to activists, he has yet to clear himself of controversy after forestry officials under him evicted and burned the homes of Karen villagers in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

They say he was also linked to the disappearance of Karen land rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen two years ago.

A network of 25 activist groups opposed to the appointment of Mr Chaiwat to head the task force say they will petition the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodical Review meeting in Geneva on May 11 about the decision.

Despite their claims that he is unsuitable for the job, Mr Chaiwat last year was cleared in two major court cases that had concerned his critics.

On Sept 1, the Supreme Court upheld two lower court decisions and dismissed charges against Mr Chaiwat related to the disappearance of Mr Porlajee.

A month later, the Region 7 Appeal Court upheld his acquittal and that of four alleged accomplices in the murder of Karen rights defender and politician Tatkamol Ob-om in early 2011.

Mr Chaiwat said he was not surprised by the activists' move, saying they are all part of the same group that acted against him.

He added he remains firm in his commitment to protect and preserve natural resources.

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