Plan to improve conditions for ethnic Karen approved
Thailand’s Cabinet approved a plan last week to improve the living conditions and protect the rights of members of the Karen ethnic minority living in the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex near the border with Myanmar, in preparation for seeking World Heritage Site status from UNESCO for the sanctuary of biodiversity.
The 39th session of the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is scheduled to meet in Bonn, Germany, beginning this week and running through July 8. Thailand will send a delegation led by Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment General Dapong Rattanasuwan. The minister will brief the 21-member committee on Thailand’s actions to conserve Kaeng Krachan’s ecosystem and its plan to improve living conditions for the Karen.
The government will formally seek World Heritage Site status for Kaeng Krachan next year, after implementing the plan and showing the results to the committee.
The Karen is a heterogeneous collection of tribes whose various languages fall into the Sino-Tibetan group. Their total population is estimated at roughly nine million, with seven million living in Myanmar, one million in Thailand and the rest scattered among various countries. Over 70,000 Karen live in the United States.
The Karen and some human rights activists oppose Thailand’s bid to have Kaeng Krachan designated a World Heritage Site because they fear they will be evicted from the forest complex or have their traditional way of life altered.
The Thai government’s plan, however, allows them to remain living in Kaeng Krachan and farm there, as well as bringing them in as partners to help manage, protect and conserve the forest.
“Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex itself has outstanding value as a biological system, which perfectly matches the WHC’s criteria to be inducted as a world heritage site. But unfortunately, we have received complaints of human rights abuses against the Karen people there. We have to explain what we have done to [protect their rights] to the world community,” said Kasemsun Chinnawaso, permanent secretary at the ministry.
Thailand already has five World Heritage Sites. The three cultural sites are Ban Chiang, an archeological site that has been dated back to 1495 BC until 900 BC (or around 3,000-3,500 years ago), making it the earliest prehistoric farming and habitation site in Southeast Asia; the Historic City of Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the Thai Kingdom of that name from about 1350 to 1767; and the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns: Sukhothai was the first independent Thai Kingdom established in 1238.
The two natural World Heritage Sites are the Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex in northeastern Thailand and the Thungyai Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries, also in western Thailand near the border with Myanmar.
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