November 11, 2019 / 1:47 PM / a month ago

Thailand seeks arrest of ex-national park chief in activist's killing

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court on Monday approved warrants to arrest four suspects in the killing of a prominent ethnic minority rights activist, including the former head of a national park where he went missing in 2014, police said.

Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, an ethnic Karen land- rights activist, was last seen when he was detained by authorities at the Kaeng Krachan National Park in Petchaburi province, south of the capital, Bangkok.

In May, two pieces of bone fragment with burn marks were found in a scorched oil drum, submerged near Kaeng Krachan dam. Police in September said that the bone’s DNA matched that of Pholachi’s mother, indicating the remains were his.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) police obtained arrest warrants for four suspects on Monday, including the then chief of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, according to a statement.

They face charges of premeditated murder and five other criminal offences, the statement said.

At the time of his disappearance, Pholachi was working with Karen communities on legal complaints against national park officials over the destruction and burning of houses and farms of families living in the park in a series of forest evictions.

The Karen are an ethnic minority many of whom live in communities in the forests of northern and western Thailand, and over the border in neighboring Myanmar. Many Karen in Thailand are stateless.

Pholachi was detained by national park officials on April 17, 2014 for alleged illegal possession of a honeycomb from wild bees.

Park officers said he was released after questioning, but Pholachi’s family said he never returned home.

Pholachi’s disappearance is one of more than 80 enforced disappearance in Thailand since 1980, according to rights groups.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat. Editing by Kay Johnson and Giles Elgood

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