Environmental conservation must go hand in hand with the protection of local indigenous communities’ rights in Thailand’s newly inscribed natural World Heritage site, the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, experts say.

At an online public seminar “Kaeng Krachan Forest: Creating a Positive Vision for World Heritage Sites”, domestic organisations and international agencies alike said authorities should stop looking at the indigenous Karen people as the enemy and instead see them as a partner in maintaining the site.

On July 26, the World Heritage Committee inscribed most of the 408,940 ha within Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi as a new natural World Heritage site, saying the forest harbours a unique and rich diversity of flora and fauna.

However, the inclusion of Kaeng Krachan Forest as Thailand’s third and newest natural World Heritage site was met with concern among local Karen communities. For decades, the park has been an area of conflict between its officers and the native Karen.

Prasert Puguard, a representative of the Bang Kloi Karen community, said the villagers do not object to Kaeng Krachan forest being a World Heritage site, but they fear the upgrade of its conservation status will cause greater rights deprivation and prevent them from continuing their traditional livelihoods in the forest.

“We fear the park will enforce even stricter regulations to limit our presence in Kaeng Krachan Forest, which will only intensify the conflict,” Mr Prasert said.

“We just want them to allow us to keep our traditional way of life, listen to us, and let us participate in the protection and management of the park as this is also our home.”

An officer from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Bangkok’s Culture Unit, Montira Horayangura, said Thailand has proven that Kaeng Krachan Forest is worthy of World Heritage status, but the hard work does not end there.