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BORDER / PLA KANG ORCHARD RAID: Hmong dignity 'crushed': Highlanders seek legal assistance after violent attack

BANGKOK POST August 29, 2000

Hmong villagers in Pa Klang will file a legal complaint against lowlanders who destroyed their lychee orchards during a violent raid last week, NGOs workers said yesterday.

Seewigaa Kitiyoungkul, a member of Conto, a Chiang Mai-based NGOs co-ordinating agency for highland development, said the highlanders have approached the Law Society of Thailand for legal assistance.

No complaints have been lodged with local police as yet. The highlanders had been reluctant to take action because they were told that they, in return, would face the charge of forest encroachment since their orchards, covering some 1,800 rai, was located in a national park. The area was made part of Doi Phu Kha National Park last year.

It was not clear whether the charge would be laid against local government officers who failed to prevent the raid which took place right before their eyes. The raid was carried out with the blessing of local leaders and village headmen.

While forestry chief Plodprasop Suraswadi denied any involvement in the attack, some villagers said they saw armed men in forestry camouflage outfits taking gallons of oil to the area shortly before the raid.

Ms Seewigaa said the highlanders deserved justice, urging the government to step in to restore their faith and trust. She said damage to property was not an issue in this case. "Now the Hmong have totally lost faith in the system. They have attempted to make their voice heard over the past two years but no action has ever been taken by the government."According to local NGOs, before this raid, there was a similar violence which destroyed 2,500 trees. This time, it was estimated that some 30,000 trees were lost. "And no state agencies have stepped forward to accept responsibility." Ms Seewigaa said the Hmong are considering whether they should bring their case before the UN as the world body has a declaration that gives protection to minorities. "They feel lost amid intimidation and discrimination. Their dignity has been crushed. They don't know where to go. Their trees are their life. To cut the trees is just like destroying their souls. It is hurting them so much."

Ploenpote Atthakor, Wuttipong Srisilp Nan