Search for 'Billy' turns up witnesses

Police searching for a prominent Karen activist feared to have been disappeared in Phetchaburi have questioned two student interns who may have been the last persons to see the missing man alive.

Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen, known as ''Billy,'' was briefly detained by officials of Phetchaburi's Kaeng Krachan National Park last Thursday for carrying illegally harvested wild honey. He has not been seen since shortly after he was released by the park officials. 

He was on his way to a meeting with Karen villagers and activists to discuss a lawsuit that accuses park officials of burning and destroying the homes and property of more than 20 families in the area in 2011. He was carrying files on the case when he was stopped by the park officials, according to Human Rights Watch.

Police said Tuesday that they had located two students from North Bangkok University who are undertaking internship at the park headquarters, who say they were witnesses in the case. The pair, Issara Pruaksahate and Suwanna Raman, claimed they were present when Billy was arrested and were the last persons who saw him after he was released by the park authorities. 

Police accompanied Mr Issara and Ms Suwanna to Kaeng Krachan police station on Tuesday, where they were questioned separately by a team of investigators led by Pol Col Surasak Sooksawang, deputy chief of the Phetchaburi police, for more than two hours.

Police then led the interns separately to the 6th Kaeng Krachan National Park Protection Unit separately and asked them to point the spots where they last saw the missing activist ride away on his motorcycle after he was released. 

Pol Col Surasak said the investigators asked the witnesses to show them the spots in order to verify certain facts and suspicions, as well as to try to find more witnesses along the route that Mr Por Chalee passed.

There has been no sign or word from Mr Por Chalee since Thursday. Local and international human rights groups have urged authorities to speed up the investigation into his disappearance. 

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