Rights activist 'disappears' in Kaeng Krachan
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Rights activist 'disappears' in Kaeng Krachan

An international human rights group urged authorities on Monday to investigate the disappearance of a prominent environmental activist arrested in Kaeng Krachan, in Phetchaburi.

About 50 Karen villagers, including Mr Billy's family members, rally at the provincial hall in Phetchaburi's Muang district on Monday to press authorities to find missing Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen. (Photo by Chaiwat Sat-yeam)

Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen, known as ''Billy,'' was detained in Phetchaburi's Kaeng Krachan National Park on Thursday for carrying illegally harvested wild honey, and has not been seen since shortly after he was released.

He was on his way to a meeting with Karen villagers and activists about a lawsuit that accuses park officials of burning and destroying the homes and property of more than 20 families in the area.

''National parks should be a place to enjoy natural beauty and serene vistas, not a place for officials to abuse people,'' said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

''So long as Billy's whereabouts are unknown, a sense of fear will stalk the park communities demanding their rights.''

Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen, better known as ''Billy'', has not been seen since being released by authorities on Thursday.

Park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn said Por Cha Lee was released because the illegally harvested honey he was carrying was deemed a petty offence.

A witness contacted by The Associated Press, Issara Seuksahet, confirmed Mr Billy was freed and was last seen Thursday riding a yellow motorcycle in the rain.

Pol Col Woradet Suanklaai, chief of the Kaeng Krachan police station, said that a missing person complaint has been filed but Billy's whereabouts remained unknown.

Human Rights Watch said that park chief Chaiwat himself was under investigation for allegedly masterminding the killing in 2011 of an activist from Mr Billy's network  who had helped ethnic Karen villagers report abuses, violence, illegal logging and poaching allegedly committed by park officials.

Mr Chaiwat has not been suspended from duty as required under disciplinary regulations regarding officials under criminal investigation, Human Rights Watch said. ''Chaiwat's presence at the national park has been a cause of fear among local activists and villagers, particularly those involved in lawsuits against him,'' it added.

The New York-based right group also referred to the case of Tassanakamol Aobeaom, an activist of Mr Billy’s network who was shot dead while he was driving a pickup truck in Phetchaburi town.

National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwachara called on the authorities to find the missing activist.

''Billy is not an ordinary villager who simply went missing. He is a key Karen activist who is fighting a case in the Administrative Court, and it's the responsibiity of the government and administrative officials to find out where he might be, whether he is being tortured or even killed,'' Dr Niran said.

Mr Bill is a resident of Ban Bangkloy Bon. The only access to the village is through the park.

With legal aid from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, the Bangkloy Bon villagers led by Mr Billy sued authorities in 2011 for the destruction and burning of houses and property of more than 20 Karen families who were living in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

Mr Billy has taken a major role in collecting evidence and finding witnesses to confront  the authorities in their lawsuit, said Surapong Kongchantuk, chairman of the council's subcommittee on human rights of ethnic minorities, the stateless, migrant workers and the displaced.

He is also preparing a petition about this case for submission to His Majesty the King.

“He is a witness, and also an interpreter for other witnesses because of his good Thai,” said Mr Surapong, who is also a friend of Billy.

“He is due to appear in front of the Administration Court next month. His absence would significantly affect the court case. I don’t see any other cause of his absence but his activism.”

In Phetchaburi about 50 Karen villagers led by Billy's wife Pinnapa Prueksaphan rallied at the provincial hall and forwarded a letter to governor Monthien Thongnit and Pol Maj Gen Peerachai Ruenrueng, the provincial police chief, requesting they urgently find the activist.

His wife said she was confident that her husband's disappearance was linked to the park chief, because Billy had no conflict with any other person.

On Saturday his family also filed a complaint with Kaeng Krachan police, reporting his disappearance.

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