Thai court orders park chief arrested in activist’s murder

An undated photo of Billy provided by his wife Phinnapa Prueksaphan. (AP)
An undated photo of Billy provided by his wife Phinnapa Prueksaphan. (AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court on Monday issued arrest warrants for the former head of a major national park and three park employees accused of killing an ethnic Karen environmental activist.

The Department of Special Investigation announced that a special court for state officials approved the warrants in the case of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, who was last seen in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in western Thailand in April 2014.The four face several related charges as well, including holding a person against his will, robbery and concealing a corpse.

Porlajee, also known as Billy, had led the Karen community in a lawsuit against park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn over his efforts to evict them by burning their homes inside the park — where they had lived for generations — along with their possessions.

Chaiwat claimed Porlajee had been arrested for illegally collecting wild honey and had been released with a warning before disappearing.

Porlajee’s burnt remains were discovered this year in an oil drum sunk in a reservoir and were identified by DNA tests. Until then, his disappearance was treated by the authorities as a missing person case.

The Bangkok Post newspaper reported Monday that Chaiwat, who now heads a conservation area in Thailand’s northeast, said he had not seen the warrant but was not worried and would not try to escape. He has consistently maintained his innocence.

The case has been on a list compiled by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights of 82 victims of forced disappearance in Thailand since the 1980s, which includes activists critical of state policy or officials.

“None of these cases have been resolved, and no one has been prosecuted,” the New York-based group Human Rights Watch noted on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. “A key reason for this is that Thailand’s penal code does not recognize enforced disappearance as a criminal offense. Thailand has signed but has yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”

Porlajee, who was 30 years old when he disappeared, is survived by his wife, Phinnapha Phrueksaphan, and their five children.