A Heartfelt Plea from the Karen community in Bang Kloi
We are of Karen ethnicity, descended from our ancestors who have lived in the Kaeng Krachan forest for centuries. We have been making our living and caring for the Kaeng Krachan forest for generations. Later, when government officials took care of the forest, we have always cooperated, obeyed, and followed very well. There are many historical records confirming the existence of our communities at Baan Jai Phaen and Baan Bang Kloy (Bang Kloy Bon).
In 1996, national reserve officers forced us to move to Ban Pong Luek village. Initially, we were promised 7 rai of land for each family, but when we moved there as requested, the officers had not provided the land as promised, making it impossible for us to grow and cultivate rice and sustain ourselves. Some people in our community decided to return to our traditional methods and location at Bang Kloi Bon. Later in 2010-2011, the military and national park reserve officers collaborated to force us out of our original home by arresting our people there, including Grandpa Kor-ee, forcing everyone back to Bang Kloi Lang. Furthermore, they burned the barns there, to prevent further attempts of trying to stay at Bang Kloi Bon.
With more people in Bang Kloi Lang, this caused trouble with some villagers from Baan Pong Leuk due to them having to divide and share land with the surplus villagers. Government organizations have tried to rectify the situation by implementing various programs, such as rice terrace farming, handicrafts and embroidery.
However, these programs are not sufficient enough for us to sustain ourselves, and many of us struggle and have to find jobs outside the village, of which there is usually not enough pay. We have tried to inform state organizations that visit the area that the current system that has been set up for us is not in accordance with our tradition and lifestyle as Karen people, due to how we are not willing to burden other people and pride ourselves on our agricultural style and how it fits in with preserving the forest and wildlife. To forsake our land and traditions, is to forsake who we are as Karen people. We tried to ask the government organizations to allow us to return to our traditional home to continue our culture and preserve our way of life, but they have never listened to us, and have not changed how they treat our situation.
On January 8, 2021, our community had a meeting and discussed that the current living situation in Baan Bang Kloi Lang has reached a critical point. We decided to collectively travel back to our traditional home and grounds to Bang Kloi Bon. On 4 am of January 9, 2021, we remembered the teachings of Grandpa Kor-ee, “We were born here, the first drop of milk we drank was here, the first grain of rice we ate was here, our first step we walked was here, if we were to die, we would go back and die here.” Our community believes that we must be successful and whatever happens to us, whether it being us getting arrested or losing our lives, we will follow Grandpa Kor-ee’s words, as long as it happens here.
Grandpa Kor-ee also taught us that we, as a community, had never invaded other people’s lands, and we do not want to cause anyone any trouble. This return to our traditional lands, we want the state officers to know that, we are not asking for any documentation, we are not claiming the forest area as ours, we are not asking for a share of the forest, but we are simply asking for the state to acknowledge and allow us to make use of the same grounds that Grandpa Kor-ee and our ancestors have done before us. In fact, providing a share of land to us makes this goal even further away from us. We have seen various examples of having only one piece of land for agriculture, requiring fertilizers and chemicals which destroy and harm the environment. Furthermore, we also have to deal with merchants and be in debt. That life is not for us.
We have seen and heard news broadcast to the outside society, showing the actions and attitudes of the state organizations and their understanding of our people’s traditions and cultures. However, there are still some who think that we are a threat to the reserve’s natural resources, some of which have received news in an accusatory manner, which was accusing us as a group of immigrants that have invaded and abusing the Thai forest reserve. There were even greater accusations of us being a support unit for armed insurgents in the border, and those suggested the government to decisively deal with us.
We think that there are a lot of state organizations which have misunderstood our goals and intentions, as stated above, since we have heard a lot of accusations that we are an invading threat, as well as presenting images of weapons, corpses of protected animal species, which cannot be proven to be associated with us in any manner, but they just connected it and assumed we were responsible, which is a very serious accusation against us. We would like to point out that the Department of Parks and the Ministry of Resources have accused us of this before in the case that Grandpa Kor-ee filed to the Administrative Court, which, at this time, have declared that the accusations are hearsay, and they categorize Grandpa Kor-ee and our community as those who have stayed and made a living there before there were natural reserve laws, and thus, we are not guilty of invading the forest reserve. We feel that, if the particular state organizations cannot understand and see this issue, then we cannot properly communicate and have a reasonable discussion with them.
All of this is our request for those that have received incorrect information or misunderstandings, to review and reconsider that these accusations are unjustified and not true. We confirm that our main intention is to return to our traditional living and farming grounds. We do not aim to destroy the forest, wildlife and our agricultural methods are done with respect to the local environment, and to our cultures and traditions. In fact, the mere act of damaging the forest also damages our traditions and beliefs of our culture. This can be proven in how the local forest grounds in Khaeng Krachan have never been damaged as a result of Grandpa Kor-ee or our ancestors, but in fact, has flourished to the point that it is declared a natural sanctuary and reserve.
There are some government organizations who are still firm in their belief that living in the national reserve is illegal, and we should not be allowed to make use of the lands and grounds there. We believe that this line of thought is incorrect, and believe that the intention of the law is not to try to destroy our traditions and Karen ethnicity. We know that the current constitution itself has some guarantee of support towards the rights of ethnic groups. Furthermore the national reserve forest law, August 3, 2010, also states that it is not illegal for ethnic groups to live in the forest area. We also believe that if the government organizations were to understand our motives and traditions, our agricultural methods and culture, it would not be necessary to divide land to split people up without breaking any law.
Therefore, we have the following requests for government organizations
1. We would ask the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment to issue documentation certifying the existence of the Karen ethnic group in the Khaeng Krachan forest, as well as giving them the right to use agricultural techniques that do not harm the forest’s natural resources.
2. To request that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to properly study and understand the farming methods used by the Karen ethnic group in the Khaeng Krachan forest, to observe and correct any flaws, in order to prevent misunderstanding and the spread of false information.
3. For the Khaeng Krachan National Park to look into and act accordingly against some officers who believe that we are offenders, and to also repeal the prohibition of the sponsorship and support of rice, fish, and other foods and necessities for the Pong Leuk community, the Bang Kloi Lang community, and the rest of us who returned to our traditional lands.
4. Only when the state has considered and agreed to the above terms, then we would be ready for negotiations and discussion. We aim to have proper rules established concerning agricultural methods that do not harm the natural resources of the forest, in order to preserve the area and integrity of Khaeng Krachan forest.
Lastly, we would like to thank everyone in our community for their determination to inherit and continue the ways of our ancestors regardless of the risk it brings. We would also like to thank all other ethnic groups across Thailand who have helped voice their support, as well as donated food and other supplies to us. In addition, we would also like to thank the NGOs that have joined us and helped us in our plight. We hope that the government will listen to this heartfelt plea of ours, and we truly believe that this is a sustainable solution which also serves to benefit the society and the nation as a whole.
Reported on February 9, 2021