Land rights defender, victims of forest-reclamation policy dies at 67

Suphap Kamlae, a victim turned land rights defender in the Khok Yao community, Chaiyaphum Province, and widow of Den Kamlae, a land rights leader who mysteriously disappeared in 2016, passed away of liver and intestinal cancer on 6 May 2021.

Suphap Kamlae (Source: Isan Land Reform News Agency)

Suphap’s condition deteriorated since 17.00 on Wednesday and she could not breathe properly. She was sent to Khon San Hospital and later transferred to Phu Khieo where she passed away at 20.00.

The funeral will be held at Thung Luilai temple, Khon San District, Chaiyaphum.

Suphap, her husband and the villagers at Khok Yao community were among those affected by the Forest Reclamation policy declared by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) government in 2014 under junta orders 64/2557 and 66/2557.

Suphap's and Den's house.

The NCPO orders, which at the time were deemed absolute, extended the area of National Parks or reclaimed plots of land as forest. The orders were meant to prevent exploitation of the forest but resulted in residents being evicted.

Residents in the Khok Yao community were ordered to move out of the area when it was declared part of the Phu Sum Phak Nam Reserved Forest in 2014 and 2015. Den, Suphap’s husband, succeeded in negotiating a delay with the authorities while pushing for the issuance of a community deed, a form of land tenure where a community as a whole collectively owns land.

However, Den went missing on 16 April 2019 when he went to forage for mushrooms and bamboo in Khok Yao forest. Repeated attempts were made to discover his whereabouts and in 2019, his shoes and clothes were found and then part of a human skull, which forensic tests showed was a genetic match with Den’s sister.

The circumstances of his disappearance were never clarified, and no perpetrators were ever brought to justice.

Den and Suphap had been charged with trespassing in the forest in 2011. On 27 July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that Suphap was guilty of possessing or exploiting forest land and she was given a 6-month jail sentence. She was released on 6 January 2018 and continued the struggle for land rights until she was diagnosed with cancer and her condition deteriorated.

Commemorations have been held on the anniversary of Den’s disappearance to underline his case and land rights problems. In 2017, a public panel discussion was held at Thung Luilai temple attended by many former members of the Communist Party of Thailand where Den and his sister had been members under the alias Comrade Dao Ipum.



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