Some Bangkloi villagers went to check on the operation base near the village, as being reportedly concerned about the situation against their fellows uphill. Credit: Northern Development Foundation

Crackdown on “encroachers” in Kaeng Krachan forest begins

Fresh evidence of apparent forest clearing and burning in the deep jungle of Kaeng Krachan National Park has been presented to the public to substantiate claims and the forest suppression operation by forest officials, while Karen supporter groups have condemned the latest suppression move and vowed to stage a protest in the city this evening

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has endorsed a directive to crack down a group of people found encroaching the forest deep in Kaeng Krachan National Park after receiving some fresh evidence of video clips and photographs presenting apparently fresh marks of forest clearing and burning. This has also been publicly shared to some news agencies and the public since yesterday.

Dr. Yutthaphon Ankinandana, the Environment Minister’s advisor, who supervises the newly launched Petchaburi Watershed Protection Operation, has revealed today that the minister has instructed him to supervise the operation, under which a joint force is tasked to suppress forest encroachment activities around the controversial Bangkloi Bon village deep in the national park.

Dr. Yutthaphon said the park had inspected the area last month following the flight of some Bangkloi Lang-Pong Luek residents and learned that some 10 plots of forestland, around 34 rai in total, were cleared and burnt, but during the latest inspection trip over the weekend, forest officials found more of the forest was cleared and burnt, 120 rai or so in total.

One of the photos shows forest clearing and burning claimed by the officials around Bangkloi Bon village.
Credit: DNP

The 3-day operation was therefore launched to suppress the activities, said Dr. Yutthaphon.

Dr. Yutthaphon also said the officials had tried to negotiate with those people and their representatives and come up with an MOU to resolve the issue they had together, but still, fresh forest clearing and burning took place, suggesting the breach of the MOU.

Dr. Yutthaphon briefs the team.
Credit: Yutthapol Ang-kinant FB Page

Bangkloi’s flight

In mid-last month, a group of Bangkloi Bon (Upper Bangkloi) and Jai Pandin descendants, said to be between 40-60 persons, had fled from the resettlement villages of Bangkloi Lang and Pong Luek dowhill to their ancestral land uphill, claiming they had faced hardship caused by the lack of farmland and Covid-19.

As the news broke, sympathies and campaigns to save Bang Kloi (villagers) then flooded into the communities before spreading out in the society, prompting heated debates and reigniting the long-time occupational land rights conflict in the area as their ancestral land was judged by the top administrative court in 2018 as being unlawfully valid for occupation.

Their representatives and Karen networks, forming into a new group of Save Bangkloi, decided to submit a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on February 5 whereas P-Move was trying to strike a deal with the ministry.

Scuffles broke between the protesters and the police, prompting ten protest leaders to be summoned for illegal gathering in public area.

At the villages, checkpoints were set up, and more stringent checks on passengers travelling in and out were undertaken along with some patrolling. Interceptions against food supplies sent to the villagers uphill were also reported.

These incidents heightened dissatisfaction among the villagers, prompting them and their networks to call for a new round of protest at Government House on last Monday before a deal was reached. (Read: Bangkloi protesters head back home)

The ministry then assigned a newly appointed panel comprising representatives of all concerned parties to resolve the issue to travel to Bangkloi to jumpstart its work on the weekend, almost the same time as the latest forest inspection.

Save Bangkloi group and networks organise a campaign to save Bangkloi in front of BACC.
Credit: Green News/ Nicha Wachpanich

Renewed “Save Bangkloi

Upon learning about the releases of the fresh evidence and the launch of operation, the Karen supporter groups have issued a statement slamming the acts as distorting facts about the Karens and substantiating the operation.

The groups, led by Save Bangkloi, claim that the cleared and burnt forest seen in the photos and video clips are old rotational farming plots left behind after the villagers there were located ten and twenty years ago.

The youngsters who went uphill last month confirmed them that they had cleared the plots before the protest by Government House on last Monday, not freshly clearing them as accused. They needed to burn the residues and this followed their traditional practices, they claimed.

The groups said while the Karens stick to the MOU, it’s the government who is about to enforce law against them. They demanded the officials drop their operation following what agreed in the MOU and return to the document.

The groups also vowed to stage a protest in support of the Karens in the park this evening on.

So far, there is no further verification on the pieces of evidence by both sides.