Mr. Den Kamlae, a prominent activist from the Khokyao community, has been reported missing since 16 April 2016. He was last seen at his house before entering the community forest to collect forest products as part of his normal daily activity. This creates grave concern and worry for his family, local activists, and community members.  

Mr. Den is a farmer and land rights activist from the Khokyao community, Khonsan district, Thailand’s northeastern province, Chaiyaphum.  He is one among the active members of Essan Land Reform Network. Although there is no explicit evidence, the general consensus is that Mr. Den’s disappearance is closely linked to his activism on land issues, especially in his own community.

Land disputes in Khokyao

Mr. Den and other local villagers, most of whom are farmers, have been residing in Khokyao.  From 1985 to 1988, the Government of Thailand has implemented forest and wild life protection and conservation policies. As a consequence, local villagers were pressured to move from the area. The State promised to allocate 15 rai of land per person as compensation. However, lands given by the state had already been occupied by other individuals. Local villagers in Khokyao have become landless.

Since then, the local community has protested and appealed to the relevant state authorities demanding land to be returned back to local villagers. On 29 February 2010, the Cabinet adopted a resolution providing exceptional measures providing access to land for local people and allowing them to temporarily settle in the Khokyao area.

However, on 1 July 2011, Mr. Den, his wife, and three other villagers were arrested and charged with illegal encroachment, illegal occupation, and act of deforestation.  The legal case against them is now in the Supreme Court. On 10 March 2016, forest department officials, military, and relevant authorities notified local villagers, who allegedly intruded on forest reserved land, to vacate the area within eight days, but people refused and insisted that they have rights over the land.

When Mr. Den’s family and local activists reported the case two days after his disappearance, local police and forest department officials ignored them and failed to take immediate action to search for him and carry out an investigation.

In solidarity with the family of Mr. Den Komlae, member of the Khonyao community, Focus on the Global South urges all Thai authorities, from the Government to local police officials, to take immediate action on Mr. Den’s disappearance. 

Photo credit: Esan Land Reform Network