Karen villagers’ settlement in Kaeng Krachan National Park sparks public outcry

PHOTO: Flickr

Protests have erupted among local residents in Phetchaburi over the Thai government’s decision to settle 150 Karen villagers in Kaeng Krachan National Park. The controversy was sparked on April 30 when the prime minister issued an order permitting the villagers to return to arable land located deep within the Bang Kloy Bon area of the national park.

This decision has been met with widespread backlash, particularly among those invested in the preservation of natural areas and land in the province. Sumol Sutawiriyapat, a former Phetchaburi senator and the president of the Phetchaburi Nature and Environment Preservation Club, has voiced concerns that the forest will be damaged as a consequence of the order. The club has queried the government on this matter but has not received a response.

Sumol explained that multiple generations of Karen villagers have historically lived in the area. Swidden agriculture, their traditional form of rice cultivation, was traded for land deeds and extra support from local authorities. The situation seemed unfair to other residents in neighbouring areas who were not granted the same opportunities, Sumol claimed.

The prime minister’s order was issued as part of his campaign strategy for the May 14 general election, but it appears to have had unintended consequences. Sumol stated that the decision has angered local residents and threatens to damage the future prosperity of the Unesco world heritage forest. Furthermore, she questioned what criteria the government plans to use to ensure that the Karen villagers will not cause further damage to the national park.

Sumol noted that the order was based on recommendations from an independent working group that did not include any Phetchaburi natives. This lack of local representation limited the group’s knowledge about the regional environment.

A 70 year old resident of the Baan Lad district commented that most locals would like to see the prime minister cancel the order, as they do not believe that the Karen villagers will engage in forest conservation efforts. A group of people from Phetchaburi have filed a complaint with the Administrative Court in an attempt to determine the legality of the order. They also plan to protest at the Government House if the situation remains unresolved, according to Sumol.

Thailand News

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.