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Activists from the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community have filed a petition with two House Committees calling for the authorities to drop encroachment charges against community members who tried to return to their ancestral land in the Kaeng Krachan Forest, from where they were forcibly evacuated.

Bang Kloi community members and P-Move activists at parliament on 11 October. (Photo from P-Move)

The activists, who have been protesting with the People Movement for a Just Society (P-Move), have now occupied the street in front of Government House for over 10 days.  They went to parliament on Wednesday (11 October) to file a petition with the House Committee on the Judiciary, Independent Organisations, State Attournies, State Enterprises, Public Organisations, and Funds to call for encroachment charges against community members to be dropped.

Akkarin Tonnamphet, a Bang Kloi activist, explained that the community had earlier been forcibly evacuated from their ancestral land at Bang Kloi Bon and Chai Phaen Din, deep in the Kaeng Krachan forest, and relocated to Pong Luek-Bang Kloi, where the land was not suitable for agriculture. This forced community members to find employment in the city.  Later, they lost their jobs and income when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. A number of community members then decided to return to Chai Phaen Din to live according to their traditional way of life, but they were arrested and 29 were charged for encroaching on national park lands.

The petition calls on the House Committee to submit recommendations to the Office of the Attorney General to dismiss charges against the community members, as prosecuting them is unfair and not in the interest of the public. It also asks the Committee to push for an amnesty bill for citizens affected by government policy.

Activist Pachara Khamchamnan, a member of P-Move and the indigenous right network Save Bang Kloi Coalition, noted that members of the Bang Kloi community were being prosecuted under the National Park Act, the National Forest Act, and the Forestry Act. Each person faces up to 10 charges, and among them are 2 minors. The community previously filed petitions with the Office of the Attorney General, but their petitions were dismissed. He said that the Committee should help as society gains nothing from their prosecution.

The petition was received by Move Forward Party MPs Bencha Saengchantra, the Committee’s deputy chairperson, and Phanida Mongkolsawat, the Committee’s spokesperson.

Phanida said the petition has been accepted and will be brought before the Committee’s chair as soon as possible so that it can be included on the Committee’s agenda. She hopes that legislative measures can be used to support the community.

The Bang Kloi community also filed another petition with the House Committee on Land, Natural Resources, and Environment calling for the Committee to help them return to their ancestral land. This is in line with a recommendation made by an independent committee set up during the last government’s term to solves issues facing the community.

The petition was received by Move Forward MP and secretary general Apichat Sirisoontron, who is also chair of the Committee. He said that the Committee will be setting up a working group to see what the Committee can do. The Committee will also be discussing these issues during their meeting next Wednesday (18 October).

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