Forest dwellers engaged in a 700-km-long march from Chiang Mai arrived in Bangkok yesterday and are now taking a much-needed rest in a public park near Chatuchak market. Prue Odochao, a Karen villager from Chiang Mai's Samoeng district, was the only one to have not made it.
Mr Prue, 34, could only make it to Chai Nat province yesterday, about 200km north of Bangkok.
The Karen was among the marchers when they left Chiang Dao district in Chiang Mai on Nov 7, but when the group arrived in Phitsanulok, Mr Prue had to return to Chiang Mai to look after his sick daughter.
Days later when he tried to catch up with the group, it was already too late as the others had already reached Phichit province.
''I felt uncomfortable that I skipped part of this historical journey, so I decided to make a solo walk from Phitsanulok, where I left the group,'' said Mr Prue, who slept over at a petrol station last night.
''I'm not sure if I would be able to join the other marchers in Bangkok by the end of this week because I want to spend my time talking to passers-by about forest dwellers' sustainable way of forest management and tell them why we are opposing the current version of the community forest bill,'' he said.
The 50 villagers staging the long march plan to rally in Bangkok until Thursday to urge Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the House to push for the adoption of a people's version of the community forest bill.
The villagers will rally in front of the parliament building this morning. About 5,000 forest dwellers and community forest advocates from across the country are expected to join them.
Fifty-thousand people had signed their names for a people's version of the community forest bill to the House in 2000. The House passed it for the first reading in 2001 but the bill was later changed under the scrutiny of the Senate and the joint House-Senate committee.
The change reportedly excludes local people's right to live in the vicinity of local forests and make their living from forest products.
The current version also demands harsh action against forest dwellers, say villagers.
Veerasak Wanna-ubon, a 35-year-old lychee farmer from Chai Prakan district of Chiang Mai, said the demonstrators chose to walk so that they could campaign for a people-favoured community forest law.
The marchers walked 30-40km a day for 35 gruelsling days, stayed overnight at temples and received food and water from two accompanying pick-up trucks replenished by food donations they received from the communities they had passed through, he said.
He insisted that local people who collected forest products could protect forests better than forestry officialsBangkok Post