Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The discovery of burnt bone fragments belonging to the Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen inside an oil tank, which had been submerged in water, in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, Petbury, highlights the dangers facing environmental activists and the lack of human rights in Thailand.
Billy’s remains were found by the Department of Special Investigation and DSI deputy chief Kornwat Panpraphakorn has vowed to investigate the killing. If he is successful in prosecuting the murderers, it will be a highly unusual but very welcome outcome. Most political killers in Thailand carry out their deeds with impunity.
The manner in which Billy died has similarities with the disappearance of the human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelapaichit in 2004. Somchai was defending a number of Muslim Malay suspects who were accused of stealing weapons and then tortured into making statements. It is likely that his murder and the subsequent burning of his body were carried out by policemen from more than one unit. Taksin Shinawat was Prime Minister at the time.
Parallels have also been drawn with state murders of Communists during the Cold War period, when suspects were often burnt alive in oil drums. We do not know whether Billy was dead before his body was burnt.
Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, who was director of the Kaeng Krachan National Park at the time of Billy’s death, has much explaining to do. Chaiwat and several park officials briefly detained Billy on 17th April 2014 because he had collected wild honey in the forest. The park officials claim that they released Billy without charge on the same day. But he was never seen again and Billy’s widow and other Karen villagers question this claim.
Billy was a key activist for the rights of local communities which had been forcibly evicted from their traditional homes in the forest. Villagers were relocated to an area where they could not make a living.
Just before his disappearance, Billy had also taken some photos (see above) which seem to show National Park employees illegally cutting wood in the nature reserve. A previous community campaigner in the area was gunned down by unknown assailants and Billy took over his role in the community campaign.
Billy’s widow has faced a number of death threats for campaigning to obtain the truth about her husband’s disappearance.
This all points to the work of local Mafia-types involved in illegal logging with close connections to National Park officials. We shall have to see whether any high up officials and “people of influence” are eventually punished.
For more articles on gross human rights abuses in Thailand, see: https://bit.ly/2kqk0jM , https://bit.ly/2efnvEH , https://bit.ly/22Ts5cM , https://bit.ly/2o4Wq99