Billy’s wife refuses to give up hope

Petchaburi - The wife of missing Karen rights activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, also known as Billy, still hopes her husband will return home safely despite concern the police might not be making their best effort to search for him.

Pinapa Pruksapan, a 29-year-old mother of five children, said that during their 10-year marriage her husband had never been out of contact with her for more than a week.

Their last conversation was on April 15 when Mr Porlajee said he would go to visit his mother at Ban Pong Luke-Bang Kloy, located inside Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province.

Ms Pinapa filed a missing person's report with Kaeng Krachan police on April 18 after her husband was detained by forestry officials. Mr Porlajee's brother had told her he was detained by the officials on April 17 and no one had had contact with him since.

Mr Porlajee is a translator for a local Karen group which filed a complaint with the Central Administrative Court against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry in 2012. Group members are angry that forestry officials, led by Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, set fire to their homes in the forest in a 2011 operation to deal with forest encroachment.

"I still have hope that he is alive. I would like to beg whoever is detaining him to let him come back. It is painful when I have to answer to my children who ask when their father is coming home,” she said in a telephone interview.

She and her family were accompanied by a police team on Friday when they met representatives of the National Human Rights Commission who visited the area to get statements over the disappearance.

Ms Pinapa said Mr Porlajee had not told her of any personal conflicts, including with forestry officials, but only said his job was very dangerous and risky.

Plu Jibung, 37, the assistant village chief of Ban Bang Kloy who was a close friend of Mr Porlajee, said the Karen activist had never gone far from Ban Bang Kloy and his wife's family's village, Ban Padeng, without making contact.

He said Mr Porlajee is active in fighting to protect the rights of Karen people, especially for land occupation and their traditional way of life.

“The land allocated to the Karen minority here is actually not enough to maintain our way of life due to an increasing population. So we have learnt to protect and preserve the land and forest. If not, we can't live here,” he said.

There are about 500 Karen people living in Ban Pong Luke-Bang Kloy, which is crowded with dwellings, a hospital and a school, while solar panels and satellite TV dishes proliferate.

The Lawyers Council of Thailand's Waraporn Uthairangsee, who is helping the Karen group in their legal battle with forestry authorities, says the disappearance of Mr Porlajee might affect the case as he is key to collecting information and translating in court.

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