Thai government urged to investigate 1-year disappearance of Karen environmental activist

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BANGKOK — The United Nations human rights office called Thursday on Thailand to speed up an investigation into the disappearance of an ethnic minority environmental activist who has helped villagers report illegal activity in Thailand's largest national park.

Pholachi "Billy" Rakchongcharoen was detained in Thailand's Kaeng Krachan National Park last April for allegedly possessing illegal wild honey but park officials said he was released shortly after. Friday will mark one year since he has not been seen.

The UN's Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia said Thursday the Thai government should strengthen its efforts to carry out a transparent probe into the case.

The office cited news reports that Billy was not released from official custody after he was arrested, which contradicts a claim by the park's former chief that he was only briefly detained.

There are concerns about Billy's fate, partly because Thailand has a record of deadly violence directed at land and environmental activists, with perpetrators rarely brought to justice.

Before his disappearance, Billy was helping ethnic Karen villagers and activists prepare a lawsuit accusing park officials of burning and destroying the homes and property of families in the area.

"Billy's disappearance has intimidated other human rights defenders, especially those working on land and community rights, as well as those defending rights of ethnic minorities across the country," the UN office said in the statement.

Thai police said they were working on the case but added there has been no progress.

"We are taking care of the case fully. However, there hasn't been any progress because we still don't know who the perpetrator is," police Lt. Gen. Prawut Thawornsiri told The Associated Press.

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