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Members of the Bang Kloi community and civil society organizations gathered on 17 April to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of indigenous rights activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, while the community continues to face land right issues.

Photos of Porlajee, Ko-i, and Gift placed at the event before the vigil. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

The event took place at the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, where the Bang Kloi community was forcibly relocated in 2011 after park and military officials raided the Bang Kloi Bon and Chai Phaen Din villages and burned down their houses and rice barns. Community members held a vigil for Porlajee, as well as Ko-i Meemi, the community’s late spiritual leader, and activist Gift Tonnamphet, who died in June 2023 from dengue fever after her treatment was delayed due to alleged negligence by a local hospital. 

After the vigil, the Friends Without Borders Foundation organized a screening of several short films, including “The Way of Lives,” a documentary about the Bang Kloi and Chai Phaen Din communities, and “The Purple Kingdom,” which featured Porlajee’s widow Pinnapa Pruksapan. 

On 18 April, community members participated in a discussion group about issues facing the community. The Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) reported that several participants said they want to return to the original location of the Bang Kloi Bon village, since they do not have access to farmland at Pong Luek-Bang Kloi. They also want the Thai authorities to acknowledge the existence of indigenous peoples and to deliver justice to Porlajee’s family.

Children in the Bang Kloi community looking at a timeline of human rights violation against the community, which was displayed in the Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village during the two-day event. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

A community and indigenous rights activist and a leader of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community, Porlajee was last seen on 17 April 2014, after he was detained by then-Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn and four other officials for allegedly foraging for wild honey. Chaiwat insisted he only held Porlajee for questioning before letting him go and denied any involvement in his disappearance.

Before his death, Porlajee had been campaigning for the Bang Kloi community’s right to return to the original location of their village at Chai Phaen Din in the Kaeng Krachan forest, to live according to their traditional way of life. He had also been campaigning for the community to be compensated for the damage caused during the 2011 forced evacuation.

In September 2019, fragments of a human skull were found in a 200-litre oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Dam, along with 2 steel rods and pieces of charcoal. The bone fragments were later confirmed to be Porlajee’s by DNA testing, leading to speculation by DSI officers that his body was burned to destroy evidence.

Chaiwat, now Director of the National Parks Office in the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) and three other park officials were charged with pre-meditated murder and indicted in August 2022 for their alleged involvement in Porlajee’s abduction and death. 

Porlajee's widow Pinnapa Pruksapan speaking during the discussion group on 18 April. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

On 28 September 2023, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases dismissed the charges against the four officials, citing insufficient evidence to prove that they abducted and murdered Porlajee. However, it found Chaiwat guilty of misconduct for not recording Porlajee’s arrest and not handing him over to the local police to be charged with possession of wild honey. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison but was later granted bail in order to appeal the case.

Porlajee’s family has decided to file a civil lawsuit against the DNP for 44 million baht in damages, since the department is the original affiliation of the four officials last seen with Porlajee and should be held liable for damage caused by the officials’ actions.

Meanwhile, 28 members of the Bang Kloi community face encroachment charges after they decided to travel back to Chai Phaen Din in early 2021. Community leader Pongsak Tonnamphet said that representatives of the community have filed a petition with the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General for the charges against them to be dismissed. The public prosecutor has yet to decide whether to indict them, and Pongsak said he hopes a tripartite committee will be formed to find a solution to the issues facing the community.


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