23 May 2024

The spiritual leader of the Karen tribesmen at Kaeng Krachan forest, 107-year -old Ko-ee Memi, died at the King Mongkut hospital in Phetchaburi province early Friday morning.

The grand old man was admitted to the hospital on September 29 after he developed lung inflammation, said Mr Surapong Kongchantoek, director of Karen Study and Development Centre.

He said that Mr Ko-ee fell sick in September with fatigue and had difficulty sitting up before he lost consciousness.  Relatives had him sent to the hospital in Phetchaburi province for medical treatment, where he was found to develop lung inflammation.

The hospital director, Dr Chumpol Decha-ampai, said that the old man was administered with respiratory equipment to help in breathing, but his condition was rather serious with internal bleeding in the stomach, resulting in a shock.

He said doctors had tried their best to save the old man’s life, but he succumbed to his death before dawn on Friday.

After a brief religious ceremony at the hospital, relatives took Mr Ko-ee’s body back to his home in Ban Pong Loek Bang Kloy in the Kaeng Krachan national park.  But the journey was disrupted by heavy rain and the body was instead taken to Wat Kaeng Krachan for religious ceremony.

Mr Kong-ee was widely recognized as a fighter for the rights of the Karen minority people in Kaeng Krachan.  He lived a simple life in accordance with Karen tradition and practiced crop rotation cultivation.  In July this year, he was granted Thai citizenship after a decade of legal battle for recognition as a Thai citizen.

In May 2011, park officials raided the Ban Pong Loek Bang Kloy community, razing 100 houses and their rice barns to force their eviction.

With the help of civil society, the Karen victims took the case to the Administrative Court which ruled in favour of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

In March this year, however, the Supreme Administrative Court overruled the lower court’s verdict by ruling that the park officials had no right to burn the Karens’ houses to force their eviction from the national park.  The court also ordered the department to pay the victims compensation.