Karen activist ‘Billy’ was burned and stuffed in oil drum: DSI

Image from a live stream of a DSI news conference Tuesday in Bangkok.
Image from a live stream of a DSI news conference Tuesday in Bangkok.

Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen’s skull was broken and his body stuffed in an oil drum before being set on fire and thrown in a river, according to evidence laid out by investigators Tuesday afternoon.

Five years and five months after the Karen land-rights activist went missing, DSI director Col. Paisit Wongmuang on Tuesday afternoon laid out what investigators have been able to piece together about the 2014 disappearance and murder of the Karen land-rights activist long suspected of being killed while under custody.

The evidence was recovered from a 200-liter oil drum they had to use a robot to pull from a river near a suspension bridge earlier this year in Thailand’s largest national park. It contained bone fragments, two steel bars and other physical evidence.

Bones of ‘disappeared’ Karen activist ‘Billy’ found after 5 years 

The barrel was burned on the inside, Paisit added.

While they have concluded that DNA evidence links the bones to Billy, investigators have yet to confirm the cause of death or whether he was tortured before being killed, according to Lt. Col. Wannapong Kotcharak of Central Institute of Forensic Science.

Paisit said more evidence needs need be collected. 

DNA taken from skull fragments were proven to match Billy’s mother, Poroh Rakchongcharoen, he said. 

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Billy’s family has been notified of the progress of the investigation and is satisfied with the results, he added.

Paisit said last week that the DSI was committed to punishing those responsible for the crime, but did not say where the investigation was headed next. He mentioned no suspects by name.

The DSI reportedly found the remains between May 22 and May 24, but kept the details under wraps until today.

Billy was on his way to meet other members of the Karen ethnic community protesting eviction from their lands in the national park on April 17, 2014, when he was arrested by park superintendent – Chaiwat Limlikit-akson on a spurious charge.

The oil drum among evidence shown Tuesday.
The oil drum among evidence shown Tuesday.

Chaiwat had been the chief suspect in Billy’s disappearance and presumed murder. Although investigators later determined Billy was never released from his custody, no legal mechanism exists to hold anyone accountable without a body because Thailand has no “enforced disappearance” statute.

After the case foundered for years despite the efforts of Billy’s wife, Pinnapha Phrueksapan, to continue the investigation, the DSI took up the case in 2018.

Additional reporting Todd Ruiz

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