Indigenous Thai people fight for their rights to resettle

The long suffering Karen people of Petchaburi’s Bang Kloi have found an unlikely champion in Chiang Mai University pro-democracy party

By | Mon 1 Mar 2021

Bang Kloi protesters are upset. The Bang Kloi Karen villagers are an indigenous Thai group of around 70 Karen families that have been pushed out of their land in Petchaburi province. The villagers have relied on rotational farming crops such as rice and chilies for years. In 1981, Thailand established the land they worked and lived in as The Kaeng Krachan National Park and ordered them to leave. The Bang Kloi villagers who stayed behind in the forest were labelled ‘encroachers’ (a person who unlawfully occupies land) and in 2011 were met with military force. National Park Officials and the Thai military sent helicopters with men to burn down the villagers’ homes and barns. Over 100 buildings were destroyed and the Bang Kloi were forced to leave their village. The Thai government insists that the Bang Kloi villagers are ‘encroachers’ while the villagers say the land is rightfully theirs.

The Bang Kloi people want the rights to their homes back and last night, February 25th, 2021, they fought for those rights.

At around 5pm, over 100 organisers and supporters gathered at Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai in support of the Bang Kloi villagers. The event was co-organised by Chiang Mai University students, The Willar Party (a pro-democracy protest group) and the #SAVEBangKloi (#Saveบางกลอย). Organisers said the protest’s goal was to, “Let the Bang Kloi people know that they are not alone and to educate other people, too. Also, northern Thailand has lots of other hill tribe people, they must consider that if they don’t help the Bang Kloi, it would mean that they could be in the same situation in the future, as well.”

Set under the yellow-tinted lights of Tha Pae Gate, the protester spokesmen and spokeswomen took turns on the microphone. The speakers educated the sitting crowd about the problems facing the Karen villagers. Activist musicians sang songs and the crowd clapped along as passersby watched from the fringes of the crowd. Handmade protest signs, art installations and handwritten messages for the Thai government were located and spread out around the crowd.

Surasit Donjaipariwan (Thai) or Eh Paw (Karen), a 45 year old Bang Kloi supporter and northern Karen activist from Doi Inthanon who attended said about the Thai government’s actions so far, “The government’s plan was to take care of the people after the removal of the Bang Kloi, but the they have done nothing,” he said. “For me, as Karen people, I feel so bad. Where is human rights? Where is justice for the Karen people? Also, for Thai society, this is not correct. These people have no guns and food but the government and military use a lot of force. Why don’t they just talk? I’m not happy with this.”

Past attempts to donate food to the Bang Kloi village have been blocked says Eh Paw, “We tried to collect rice to donate to the (Bang Kloi) Karen people over there and also the people from the sea wanted to donate fish but the national park blocked them. They are limiting people to go in the area. It’s very strange to me. Why is the government sending helicopters inside and blocking the donated food?”

When Eh Paw was asked what he would like to say to the Thai government about the Bang Kloi villager’s resettlement issue, he commented, “You are human. I am human. Why don’t you talk straight? To fix the situation, to fix any trouble. The government must understand the Karen culture to live with nature. They have to accept the rotation farming. We do not use slash-and-burn (an agricultural method of cutting and burning plants to create a field) to destroy the forest. The government has to have an open mind and talk. The goal is to get the people to understand.”

Shortly after 8pm the protest came to an end with one last demonstration. Organisers handed out small candles and people took turns lighting them and placing them in a heart-shaped formation in front of the protest signs. The heart-shaped collection of lit candles spelled out “บ ก” or “B.K” (short for Bang Kloi) and an acoustic musician sang a song until every candle was placed.

As protesters and organisers slowly began leaving, northern Karen activists circled around for an impromptu discussion and also to address the media. One Karen activist named Preut Odochao said, “Today we want to send our voice. Our voice is to push more energy to let the government know and understand the Karen people in Bang Kloi Jai Paen Din because the people want to go back to their village and their home. I am scared. We feel not happy and that’s why we come. The government blocked everyone from seeing Bang Kloi. If they can block communication from Bang Kloi Jai Paen Din they can do it to other indigenous people. We don’t know what they are doing there because they block the media, they could kill them all and we wouldn’t know. We need people around the world to know how hard their life is.”

Organisers say future protests are being planned and they also encourage people to research the topic and contact them on Facebook for more information:

#SAVEBangKloi Facebook

Wilar Party Facebook

Read more about the plight of the Karen and other ethnic minority groups:
Refuge from home: A harrowing story of a young Karen man who escaped Myanmar against all odds.
Born a threat: Highlanders who struggle for Thai citizenship which should be their absolute right
Migrant blues: The challenges and reality of life for migrants in Chiang Mai
Frozen in Time: Stuck in place inside the controversial world of the long neck Kayan
The importance of being Thai: The struggles of ethnic minorities and stateless people living in Thailand as they strive for Thai citizenship.