BANGKOK - The granting of UNESCO World Heritage Site status to a Thai national park is a "big gift", Thailand's environment minister said, after warnings from U.N. human rights experts that Thai authorities are forcing indigenous people to leave the area.
A group of independent U.N. experts said last Friday that the ethnic Karen community living in the vast Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex near the Myanmar border had been repeatedly subjected to forced evictions and arrests in the area.
"We have received a big gift from the World Heritage Committee," environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa said in a government statement on Monday.
"For the last 16 years, we have worked hard and there have been four attempts to list Kaeng Krachan as a World Heritage site and this, the fourth time, we have succeeded," he said.
China and Russia were among the countries which backed the Thai bid, according to their joint proposal, which made no mention of the ethnic Karen community's presence in the region.
More than 80 ethnic Karen have been arrested this year, 28 of whom were criminally charged for "encroachment" on their lands in the park, including a child, last week's statement by independent U.N. human rights experts said.
The Karen community living in the forest have resisted attempts by Thai authorities to move from what they say is their ancestral home.
A Thai government spokesman did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment on the reported evictions.
"The indigenous people who have been living there for more than a hundred years do not have rights to the land of their ancestors," said Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former Thai human rights commissioner.
"They are facing eviction in the name of preserving the forest".
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by James Pearson and Bernadette Baum) ((Panu.Wongchaemail@example.com; +6626488658;))