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NEWS - An unholy alliance lays sieg
- Subject: NEWS - An unholy alliance lays sieg
- From: Rangoonp@xxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 21:38:00
Subject: NEWS - An unholy alliance lays siege to Karens - Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post - May 13, 1999
by Sanitsuda Ekachai
An unholy alliance lays siege to Karens
Gun-toting rangers-at the invitation of forest authorities-are on the
in Tung Yai-Naresuan wildlife sanctuary to expel subsistent Karen
from their ancestral homes.
Without prior warning, these rangers and forestry teams have been
threatening pockets of Karen forest dwellers to leave their homes and
Unorganised and fearful of state power, the Tung Yai Karens areshocked
in disarray. Shaken, the villagers from Ko Sadoeng said the soldiers
them to remove five houses within one month "or else we'll tear or burn
down for you". Villagers from Kong Mongta, Tiraipah, Salawa and Jakae
similarly have reported military orders for them to stop growing rice
next year "or you go to jail".
Before pressing on with their ethnic persecution, both the forestry and
military authorities must answer these questions:
Is the crackdown a violation of the constitution, which honours the
indigenous people to live on their traditional lands and co-manage local
And speaking of constitutional rights, is it true that on April 13 a
of high-ranking forestry officials forced a group of Karen ascetics to
their New Year religious ceremony in Tung Yai at gunpoint? Is it true
they destroyed the Karens' religious memorial? And that some officials
threatened to cut the hermits' topknots in an effort to humiliate them?
Let's get one fact straight. These indigenous Karens have lived in Tung
for centuries; they are not illegal immigrants from Burma as alleged by
authorities. The state cannot violate their customary land rights. Nor
Moreover, their conservation record as forest custodians is undisputed.
wildlife sanctuary, thanks to the Karens' ecology-friendly culture and
rotation farming, is largely intact. So much so that Tung Yai has been
declared a World Heritage Site.
On bioversity, Wildlife Fund Thailand has found that that the species
number of mammals, insects and local plants in the Tung Yai Karen
is no different than in deeper forests.
Alongkot Chukaew, the chief of WFT's Western Forest Complex Programme,
the villagers can specify more than 600 plant species and their uses.
untapped treasure trove for future research will be destroyed if the
are evicted and younger generations are cut off from their cultural
He also dismissed the Forestry Department's charge that the Karens clear
vast tracts of new farmland each year as "a total nonsense".
The Karens have several plots offarmland for use in a cycle which lets
plots regenerate naturally. When they return to clear old plots,
mistakenly attack them for destroying the forest.
More revealing facts: Of the 2 million rai of forest land in Tung Yai,
Karen communities take up only 0.3 percent, said Mr Alongkot. Besides,
are in forest fringe areas-unlike the powerful lead mines which occupy
heart of the wildlife sanctuary.
In what is ugly discrimination, forestry officials allow mine owners to
roads through pristine forests and to poison the waterways with toxic
Health officials have shown that the Karens at Lower Klity, particularly
children, are subject to lead poisoning that could be fatal. But who
The forest authorities even plan to allow miners to expand their
If the Tung Yai Karens fall, others belonging to the 1.2 million forest
families might be next. The last time the military and forest
joined forces, it sparked widespread rural unrest. It looks like
similar is brewing hot.
*Sanitsuda Ekachai is AssistantEditor, Bangkok