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Commentary: Hmong and Thai must live together

September 17, 2000

Something must be done to stop the hate campaign against the Hmong-Thai farmers in Pa Klang village of Nan's Pua district. On August 21, a group of lowlanders destroyed about 20 million baht worth of lychee trees and other crops belonging to the Hmong-Thais, claiming they had trespassed on a forest reserve and watershed area. A checkpoint was later set up to stop people from reaching the scene and lowlanders were urged to oppose the Hmong-Thais in order to protect the forests.

Word spread that if the highlanders hurt even a single lowlander, they would pay with their lives "a thousand times over". Hmong-Thais now live in fear.

The August 21 incident was the second attack in two months. According to a Thai Hilltribesmen Foundation (THF) report, a group of lowlanders felled 2,000 lychee trees and razed seven houses belonging to Hmong-Thais in Ban Kok village on June 19.

The highlanders started lychee plantations at the instigation of government agencies over 30 years ago. Hmong-Thais later expanded their orchards into deteriorated forest and watershed areas in Pua and Nam Kon. Local administration and forestry officials did not object or give the Hmong-Thais any warning, regarding lychee trees as a good way to increase green areas in deforested areas.

Following a protest by lowlanders, the Chuan cabinet resolved on May 11 last year that rights to the disputed farm land must be proven. However, officials failed to comply and tension escalated.

Following the destruction of the lychee orchards in June, lowlanders pressed local authorities to set up a checkpoint at kilometre 5 in Phra That, Nan, to stop anybody from entering the area. Hmong-Thais saw this as a cover-up to prevent proper investigation. The THF and the Hilltribesmen Development Organisation are now calling for justice for the highlanders and an end to the propaganda which has created disunity among Thai people. They also called for an investigation to find the culprits and compensation for the damage.

The incident strikes me as alarming. The government must end the conflict as soon as possible. Judging by the content of one anonymous propaganda announcement, efforts have been made to cause hatred towards the Hmong-Thais. The announcement asked why they enjoyed better rights to own land to develop lucrative lychee businesses.

To further support the claim, it went on to say that Hmong-Thais trespassed on reserve forests, destroyed watershed areas and used chemical fertilisers which pollute the water. Apparently, the points were raised to justify the actions of the propagandists. If the seeds of hatred are spread further, it could result in bloodshed. The raids, the felling of the trees and the razing of houses are warning signs. If the conflict is left unresolved, killings and more destruction are certain.

The raids and the felling of trees are criminal acts. Anyone who trespasses and causes damage to the assets of other people must compensate for the damage. The authority cannot turn a blind eye to what happened.

Section 5 of the Constitution states: "The Thai people, irrespective of their origins, sex or religion, shall enjoy equal protection under this Constitution." All administrative officials of Pa Klang should explain this to the raiders and urge them to abide by the laws of the kingdom. It should be explained that the Hmong are also Thais and there are no differences between hilltribesmen and lowlanders from a legal viewpoint.

Killing and ethnic cleansing are serious crimes denounced by the world community and subject to severe punishment. Offenders have no right to take refuge anywhere in the world or cite political asylum. Let's put an end to this and live together in peace. Let's love and treat one another like brothers.