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<center><bold>Bid to halt farming expansion in forest</bold>
Army troops helped wreck Karen homes
Army troops were part of a forestry task force which demolished a number
of houses and rice-field shelters belonging to Karen hilltribe villagers
in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, First Army commander Lt-Gen
Taweep Suwanasingha confirmed on Friday.
The action was taken to prevent the villagers from expanding their
farmland in the protected forest, he said, but denied that the operation
was the beginning of a mass eviction campaign.
"There's no policy to remove the Karens out of Thung Yai," he said.
His no-relocation policy statement confirmed a similar statement made
earlier by Forestry Department chief Plodprasop Suraswadi.
Mr Plodprasop, however, has denied knowing that army troops were working
closely with forestry officials to curb alleged encroachment by the
Karen hermits complained recently that the joint forestry and army task
force had destroyed and burned three huts at a large grassland called
Saesawo or Hermit Field in the heart of the sanctuary. The huts were used
for religious rites during their New Year celebration in April.
They accused forestry officials and army troops of showing disrespect for
their culture and religious beliefs, a charge which the army and Forestry
Department have denied.
Lt-Gen Taweep confirmed the accusation. "I guess my men have taken my
recent order to step up their crackdown on illegal migrants along the
border too seriously, because I would not have ordered the burning."He
admitted the action was illegal but blamed it on the soldiers' lack of
legal knowledge. "They were just doing their job," he pointed out.
According to Col Nimitr Maliyaem, the 9th Infantry Regiment commander,
aerial inspections have shown that encroachment has spread every year
despite the Karens' insistence they adopted rotational farming methods.
The forest along the borderline in Sangklaburi district and in villages
including Saneh Pong, Koh Saderng, Lai Wo and Ti Lai Pa were most
severely affected, said the colonel who oversees six villages in the
sanctuary. He acknowledged that the Karen culture did not value the
accumulation of wealth. However, he said some villagers have recently
been influenced by modern development and have encroached into deep
forest to increase farm output.
Col Tawan Ruangsri, special task force commander of the 14th Ranger
Regiment, confirmed a statement made earlier by sanctuary chief Komolchai
Boonchai that the Karens broke their promise not to build any shelter in
Col Tawan, who oversaw the operation, said it was the first time the huts
were built. But he added that the troops burned the huts long after the
religious rites were over. Villagers who stayed on to meditate for up to
two years have claimed the huts were temporary and would be dismantled as
soon as the rites were finished.
The joint operation by forestry officials and army troops to suppress
alleged encroachment to expand farmland by Karen villagers took place
during May 6-12, some time after the forces destroyed the three huts.
This was carried out in accordance with a joint agreement made in 1991 by
the two agencies to curb forest clearance by Karens in six villages and
illegal migrants from Burma settling down in the sanctuary disguised as
The first stop was at Ja Kee Pue, a newly-settled villageA report
submitted to Lt-Gen Taweep said the soldiers had found 48 houses, and
only half of that number occupied by 71 people who carried blue cards
acknowledging their settlement in Thailand but not their Thai
An investigation revealed the other houses belonged to 150 illegal
Burmese immigrants who worked for those 71 people.
"We sent them back to their original villages in Sangkhla Buri and Sa Neh
Pong. They even admitted they owned houses in the villages," said Col
Nimitr, stressing the army's goal was to keep the Karens within the
In Kong Mong Ta village, the soldiers demolished two huts meant as watch
posts over a new 30-rai rice field and erected a no-farming sign.
Koh Saderng was the third stop. According to the report, the soldiers
found five houses under construction. They also confiscated 12 pieces of
red wood and 50-60 pieces of processed wood. "All the logs had been cut
with machine saws," he said.