Karen activists lash out at singer’s defence of former park chief

Activists fighting for the rights of the Karen ethnic group took aim at a popular singer Thursday for taking the side of a former park official who has been implicated in burning down a local village and charged with the murder of a community campaigner.

“How come he is not singing songs to save Karen villagers from Bang Kloi Jai Paen Din and the people whose human rights are being abused right now?” wrote Palur Odochao, one of the leaders of the Northern Karen Network.

He was responding to the campaign by Yuenyong “Add Carabao” Opakul in support of former park chief Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, one of the suspects for the murdering Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2019.

“I do not really have much to say about Add wanting to save the person who was accused to have forced Billy into a car until his skull was found in Kaeng Krachan Dam…and the one that was responsible for the burning down of villagers’ houses in the village of Jai Paen Din in Bang Kloi,” Palur added in his social media post on Thursday.

Chaiwat and his aides have been charged with premeditated murder among other charges but they have denied all charges and are currently out on bail.

Add Carabao launched the #Saveชัยวัฒน์ group Saturday after Chaiwat was stripped of his position as the head of Protected Area Regional Office in Ubon Ratchathani and his status as a civil servant last week.

The Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission said he was guilty of negligence for the burning down of Bang Kloi villagers’ houses in 2011.

“In the end, the unjust has triumph over justice, who will save our forest now?” Add Carabao posted on his social media page on Saturday.

He said Chaiwat has been protecting national forests against large businesses, civil servants and politicians that are looking to exploit them, which had led to the accusations against him.

Pachara Khamchamnarn, a coordinator with the Save Bang Kloi Network, said the Bang Kloi villagers were very surprised at Add Carabao’s campaign to save Chaiwat.

“He is certainly one of the suspects for the killing of Billy and there is no denying that he was in charge during the burning of the villagers’ houses” in 2011, he said.

“The Supreme Administrative Court clearly stated that Chaiwat and the authorities used excessive force in the eviction,” he said.

He also said a song by the singer suggesting that Bang Kloi villagers were hunting down elephants to barter for Thai nationality was completely baseless.  

“It was part of a propaganda that Chaiwat was spreading while he was the chief of the park,” he said.

“Chaiwat always said that these people are not Thais. And what he has been doing to Bang Kloi villagers and activists was certainly not to protect the forest as he claims,” he added.

Pachara said Chaiwat was simply protecting his own interest and that of others looking to exploit the area. He did not provide any evidence for the claim.  

He said 22 Bang Kloi villagers are being prosecuted for invading protected forest, which carries up to four years in jail. They were arrested in February for moving back to live in Bang Kloi Bon and are now awaiting trial.

Following a protest by Bang Kloi activists and villagers against their arrest at the Government House in March, the parliament has set up a committee to negotiate with the villagers.

The committee is expected to provide the initial results of the negotiation on April 17.

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