Environmentalist monks call for protection

TNA, June 22, 2005

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Buddhist monks from the Mettadhamma Forest Sanctuary in Fang district of Thailand's northern province of Chiang Mai today called for state protection following the brutal murder of one of their members last week.

The call was made as Phra Kittisak Kittisophano, head of the Mettadhamma committee, handed a petition to the chair of the House of Representatives' environment committee, asking that the monks be treated fairly.

The monastery made media headlines last week when Phra Supoj Suvajo, a 39 year-old monk, was stabbed to death, apparently over a land dispute.

The monk had been working with local villagers trying to protect a tract of land, which local influential figures had been apparently trying to control.

Phra Kittisak said that he had submitted the petition to Thai Rak Thai MP Premsak Phiayura, following widespread rumours that the dhamma centre had in fact not taught meditation, and that it did not accept local villagers.

According to the monk, Phra Supoj had hoped to donate the disputed tract of land to the Buddhist Chulalongkorn Rachawithayalai University for the construction of a new campus.

But 'influential figures' had prevented him from doing so, and the plan had been abandoned.

Phra Kittirat also claimed that two years ago, soldiers and the young brother of a politician had attempted to expel the monks from the land, showing their bags full of weapons and warning that even monks could not be guaranteed of safety.

Noting that if monks were being killed and threatened, villagers were even more at risk, he called on the government to help keep the peace in Fang district.

The monks' requests were accepted by the House environment committee, with Mr. Premsak noting that government policy is to crack down on illegal forest encroachment and 'influential figures'.

Mr. Premsak also warned that if national-level politicians, even members of the ruling Thai Rak Thai Party, appeared to be implicated in the affair, they would face police questioning.

But he stressed that politicians were often not themselves involved in such affairs, but that their names were mentioned by their relatives in order to add credence to their threats.