BANGKOK — An anti-graft agency on Thursday announced that a former national park director committed malfeasance for ordering the violent eviction of Karen families nearly a decade ago and ordered him to leave his post.
The investigation was launched after Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, who served as the director of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi at the time, was accused by community rights activists of engineering the destruction of over a hundred Karen homes inside the forest in 2011.
The Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission said Chaiwat, who is now serving as the head of the environmental protection office in Pattani province, will be removed from the public office while legal actions are taken against him.
“The commission will forward the case to his parent agency, the Royal Forest Department, where they will launch a disciplinary procedure against Chaiwat,” the commission said in a statement. “The case will also be forwarded to the state prosecutors for indictment.”
The forest is home to Karen communities who settled on the land before the national park was established in 1981. Despite evidence that the settlement predated the law, the authorities accused the Karen villagers of encroaching on protected land and damaging the forest with their shifting cultivation practices.
The threats to remove the Karens from their ancestral homeland were finally carried out in 2011, when a group of six park rangers led by Chaiwat evicted them and set about 100 of their houses on fire, the anti-graft agency said.
The community’s spiritual leader Ko-ee Mimee and five villagers filed a case against Chaiwat a year later, in 2012. The administration court in 2018 ordered the national park department to pay 50,000 baht to each of the Karen in compensation of their destroyed homes, though it rejected Karens’ request to return to the national park.
Chaiwat also stands accused of involvement in the disappearance of activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014 after he was briefly detained by Chaiwat and several officials in the national park.
He denied the allegations, insisting that he only held Porlachee for questioning for several hours and released him afterward.
The missing activist was confirmed dead in 2019 after investigators found bone fragments belonging to Porlajee inside an oil drum submerged in a lake inside the national park.
Despite multiple serious accusations against them, Chaiwat and his aides were never brought to prison as they were released on bail. The court case against them is still ongoing.
The plight of Karen villagers was brought to attention in recent days after the authorities mounted another eviction campaign against the remaining Karen families on Monday.
Rallies were held in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on the same evening to demand environmental minister Varawut Silpa-archa to keep his promise to withdraw security forces from the village.
Officials said 13 villagers voluntarily left the forest after negotiations, while the rest 21 people refused to relocate.