Four National Park Staff Transferred Following Murder Discovery

Four park staff who allegedly witnessed the arrest of Karen rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen have been transferred out of Kaeng Krachan National Park, according to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

Thanya Netithammakul, the DNP’s director-general, said the four, who are park officials and park employees, were reassigned to other provinces after the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) started treating the case as a murder.

“As far as I know, these four people were there [when the arrest was made], so I decided to transfer them out of Kaeng Krachan. I don’t know if they did anything wrong. It’s up to the DSI,” he said.

Mr Thanya did not disclose their names. Porlajee was last seen on April 17, 2014, in the custody of park officials. It was a missing persons case until the DSI ruled it to be a murder, following the discovery of a burnt piece of his skull in the reservoir of Kaeng Krachan dam in Phetchaburi province.

At the time of his arrest, Porlajee was helping his ethnic Karen relatives to sue Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, for setting fire to their bamboo huts and rice barns during a series of forest evictions.

Mr Chaiwat and his team faced a murder charge related to Porlajee’s disappearance but were eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence. Mr Thanya said he is not empowered to transfer Mr Chaiwat, who is now the chief of Protected Area Office 9, Ubon Ratchathani, adding that it is within the authority of the permanent secretary for natural resources and environment.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa yesterday supported Mr Thanya’s decision to transfer the officials. According to Mr Varawut, Mr Chaiwat is no longer at Kaeng Krachan National Park and has no authority or jurisdiction there, so his transfer was deemed unnecessary.

Wicharn Simachaya, the ministry’s permanent secretary, said Mr Chaiwat remains at the Protected Area Office 9 and the DSI has not submitted any information about the case to the ministry.

Meanwhile, Mr Chaiwat yesterday had a complaint filed with police in Ubon Ratchathani’s Muang district after one of his former subordinates was allegedly intimidated into implicating him in Porlajee’s case.

The complaint was lodged by Winai Buasri, a chief legal officer, on his behalf. DSI chief Paisit Wongmuang yesterday defended the DSI’s handling of the case after Mr Chaiwat questioned the DNA test which led authorities to conclude the Karen rights activist was murdered.

“We do have evidence but we want it to be rock solid. The Central Institute of Forensic Science is asking for another month to examine the remaining bones. The case can be wrapped up in a few months,” he said.

The test found that DNA from a skull fragment retrieved from the reservoir near a rope bridge in the park matched DNA from Porlajee’s mother.