Ko-i Mimi, the Karen ethnic community’s spiritual leader, passed away peacefully on Friday morning, before realising his last wish to return to his homeland of Ban Bangkloi. He was 107 years old.

 

Despite his relatively good condition considering his age, Ko-i’s health began to deteriorate last year and he had been hospitalised with lung infection since last Sunday.

Sadly, he did not recover from the illness.

According to veteran journalist, Paskorn Jumlongrach, Ko-i was born in 1911 at an area called “Jai Pandin” at the head of the Phetchaburi River, deep in the forest on the provincial border between Phetchaburi and Ratchaburi.

He used to be a professional guide for wealthy poachers before wildlife poaching became illegal.

 

File photo: Ko-i Mimi

Ko-i’s family and another 56 Karen families were forcibly relocated from their land at Ban Bangkloi, inside Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan National Park, by national park officers in 1996 after their ancient village was incorporated into the newly created national park in 1981.

However, the new location could not produce enough food and had few resources. As the national park did not uphold its promise to find new land for the displaced Karen villagers, they moved back to their old village at Ban Bangkloi until they were driven out of their homes again in 2011 under the Operation Tenasserim, led by Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn.

As a result, Ko-i spent his final years displaced and yearning to return to his homeland before he died.

His grandson, Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who has actively campaigned for indigenous people’s rights, was also arrested by national park officer and disappeared.

Pianporn Deetes, an indigenous people’s rights campaigner, said Ko-i’s suffering is a very clear example of the structural violence of the Thai government, that is blind to the rights of minorities and the marginalised.

Pianporn said Ko-i’s story showed that the state is not protecting the rights of indigenous communities or participating in managing and conserving the forest.