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Remains of Missing Karen Activist “Billy” Found in Submerged Oil Barrel

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Billy was last seen in Kaeng Krachan National Park on April 17, 2014 when he was apprehended by the park chief

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BANGKOK – Thailand’s DSI police have announced they have discovered the remains of activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen. “Billy” went missing in suspicious circumstances more than five years ago.

Senior officials from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) said they had found some of his remains. They had been disposed of in a submerged 200-litre oil drum in Phetchaburi province.

The DSI officials told a press conference that the human bones found inside the drum matched the DNA of a close relative of Billy’s.

Billy’s disappearance will now be treated as a murder the DSI officials said. Adding that they already had suspects in mind but need more time to gather solid evidence.

Billy’s mother and wife were put into the witness protection program.

DSI chief Pol Colonel Paisit Wongmuang explained that after DSI took up the case last June after the National Anti-Corruption Commission sent the case report them.

Probe into the case followed two tracks: one against park officials for dereliction of duty as they had reportedly released Billy without charging him with illegally collecting wild honey-comb, and the other focused on Billy’s disappearance.

DSI was helped in the investigations by the Central Institute of Forensic Science; the Border Patrol Police; the Provincial Police Region 7.

They followed clues and conducted a search finding the oil barrel containing Billy’s remains.

The underwater robot’s sonar scanning and aerial drones were launched from April 22-24.

After narrowing the target to several spots at the dam, a subsequent six-hour underwater search on April 26 led to the discovery. Police scuba divers retrieved the 200-litre oil drum, which was partially burnt and had holes.

Earlier on Tuesday, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said his agency was ready to cooperate with police. To ensure justice for all sides no matter what the outcome.

Former National Human Rights Commission Angkhana Neelapaijit posted on Facebook, that the discovery of Billy, was bitterly sad, but a step towards justice. And that Billy’s case, as he could no longer be deemed a “missing”persons case.

Also, his family would have a closure from the previous ambiguity and could hold religious rites for him.

Billy was last seen in Kaeng Krachan National Park on April 17, 2014 when he was apprehended by then park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn and his four colleagues. For the alleged illegal collection of wild bee honeycomb and honey from the forest.

Billy had a Long Going Dispute with the Kaeng Krachan National Park Chief

Billy was known to have had a dispute with Chaiwat, as the activist encouraged ethnic Karen people living in the park to file a complaint him over alleged abuses.

Park officials have consistently insisted that they had detained Billy for questioning only briefly and had released him without a charge.

Billy’s wife Pinnapa Prueksaphan, lodged complaints with several agencies holding park officials responsible for her husband’s disappearance. Resulting in investigations which did not make any significant progress in the case.

In 2017, she received an official letter from the DSI informing her that the agency had resolved not to accept the disappearance of Billy as a special case.

Pol Lt-Colonel Korrawat Panprapakorn, then head of the DSI Bureau of Regional Operation Centre, later confirmed that a letter had been sent to Pinnapa. Noting that a fresh investigation would be opened only if new evidence were found.

The DSI suggestion that investigation could only proceed if Billy’s body was found led wide criticism. That Thailand’s lack of a statute on forced disappearance.

The DSI last June announced that it would reopen investigations into Billy’s disappearance.

Source: The Nation