Kaeng Krachan Murder Case: Former Park Chief Casts Doubts on DNA Tests – Karen Activists Demand Justice

A park official who was among the last people to see the late Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen before he disappeared five years ago questioned the result of the mitochondrial DNA test that led authorities to conclude the Karen rights activist was murdered.

Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, insisted before the media on Wednesday he had nothing to do with Porlajee’s disappearance and death.

He said he doubts the result of the test, which compared the mitochondrial DNA from a skull fragment retrieved near a rope bridge in the park to DNA from Porlajee’s mother. The test was carried out by forensic scientists at the Central Institute of Forensic Science.

“I think this [the DNA test result] is not enough proof to conclusively say the skull fragment is Billy’s,” he said, before adding the skull fragment was found in the same area where local Karen tribes scatter the ashes of the deceased as a part of their funeral rites and that the skull may not belong to Billy at all. “This should not have been ignored when the bones were brought in for mitochondrial DNA testing,” he said.

Mr Chaiwat is known to have locked horns with Porlajee numerous times because the former park chief had ordered the eviction of Karen villagers from their traditional villages within the park’s boundaries.

Local activists said park officials torched the villagers’ bamboo huts and rice barns in an effort to drive them out of the park.

When Porlajee went missing on April 17, 2014, he was in the middle of preparing to sue Mr Chaiwat and other park officials for the evictions. Immediately before his disappearance, Porlajee was arrested by park authorities.

Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park

Mr Chaiwat and several park officials faced murder charges in connection with Porlajee’s disappearance, but the Supreme Court acquitted them due to lack of evidence.

The former park chief said Porlajee was arrested for illegally collecting wild honey, but claimed the activist was released after being given a warning.

In Phetchaburi province, Pinnapa Pruksapan, Porlajee’s wife, told the media on Wednesday that the death of her husband was connected to his campaign against the eviction of ethnic Karen people from Kaeng Krachan National Park.  “He told me that some organisations were not pleased with him. If he disappeared, he told me not to worry or try to find him because he would be dead.  She is asking the authorities to immediately arrest the wrongdoers.

Dozens of Karen gathered at Mida Hotel in suburban greater Bangkok on Wednesday to demand authorities both swiftly prosecute those behind the murder and uphold cabinet resolutions on revitalising indigenous communities.

“We appreciate the work of the Department of Special Investigation and the forensic institute which were able to locate significant evidence on Billy’s case,” reads the statement. “We demand the state and relevant authorities accelerate their efforts in bringing the offenders to trial as soon as possible.”

Karen activists also urged the authorities to investigate the arson of Karen communities in Kaeng Krachan National Park during a series of raids in 2011 led by the former national park chief, Mr Chaiwat.

Although the villagers won compensation from Chaiwat in a court case in 2018, the court did not allow them to resettle in the same area from which they had been evicted since they were not given land ownership rights from the government.

The statement called further for the protection of activists’ rights through a law against torture and enforced disappearance. Thailand signed the UN convention against torture in 2012, but never ratified it in domestic law.