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The monks of the Buddhadāsa Study Group moved from Wat Tarn Nam Lai (Suan Mokkhabalarama, Chaiya District, Surat Thani Province) to Mettadhamma Forest Dhamma Center (Ban Huay Ngunai, Tambol Sansai, Ampoe Fang, Chiang Mai Province in Northern Thailand) on December 20, 2541 (1998) at the request of Ven. Ajahn Sington Narasabho (Dr. Sington Kamsao) and Mr. Sulak Sivaraksa, and with the permission of Chaokhun Kunabodhirangsi (then Vice ecclesiastical Governor of Chiang Mai Province). The original group consisted of Phra Supoj Suvacano, Phramaha Kitti Dhammapalo, Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano, Phra Taweesak Jiradhammo, and Phramaha Cherdchai Kawiwangso. They were invited to continue their Dhamma studies and practice, as well disseminate Buddhist teachings, in line with the approach of Ven. Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu and the style of practice at Suan Mokkhabalarama. Before long, certain parties who wanted to get their hands on the 1500 rai (600 acres) donated by Ven. Ajahn Sington to establish this Dhamma Practice Center.
Dr. Sington Kamsao, while a professor at Chiang Mai University, began purchasing the land in small parcels beginning around 1980. The land use permits (Sor Por Kor 4-01) for the land were then held by local workers and villagers who had worked with Ven. Ajahn Sington even before his ordination. (Deeds and land titles in Thailand have varying levels of strength. While the land in question cannot be sold unless full title is obtained not easy unless one has power or money the permits for its use are regularly sold.) This situation created an easy opportunity for local "influential persons" seeking to expand their plantations to pressure the villagers to give up or sell their rights. Only the 75 rai (30 acres) specified as monastic residence had full title (Nor Sor 3), held in the name of Mr. Sington Kamsao.
From the start, local influential persons and their henchmen continuously tried to threaten and scare both directly and indirectly the residents of this Suan Mettadhamma Dhamma Practice Center. Their tactics included setting fires in the forest, shooting guns near the huts of the monks, and destroying trees and herbal medicine plants planted by the monks in their attempts to revive the forest.
In 1999, the resident Sangha consulted with the people holding the permits to the land and decided to set aside 800 rai (320 acres) as Community Forest with a portion designated as Monastic Residence (for local monks). Their objective was to lessen the amount of land under their direct control but the aggression and threatens did not lessen in any way.
In 2000, the Metta Dhammaraksa Foundation was established, with final official approval granted December 20, 2000 (Kor Tor 1064). The original board consisted of Mr. Sulak Sivaraksa, Mr Pipop Thongchai, Mr. Anan Viriyapinij, and Mr. Surasee Kosalanawin (highly respected social activists), so that the Dhamma Center would be under proper supervision according to foundation regulations.
In 2001 (approximately), the land's owner Ven. Ajahn Sington Narasabho gave full authority for managing the land, looking after the Dhamma Center, and any benefits that might accrue to Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano, the Coordinator of the BSG and representative of the resident Sangha living there. It was clearly stipulated that the land could be used solely for the benefit of disseminating Buddhist teachings.
Nevertheless, pressure from local "influential persons" increased in the middle of that year, perhaps because the activities and management of the Sangha and Mettadhammaraksa Foundation were increasingly solid and secure. Here, the "influential persons" included retired soldiers such as RA. Narong Karsasom, a member of the local township council Mr. Petch Podara, a retired policeman (name unknown), and well-known people from the area such as Mr. Manu Sangsu, Mr. Pock (younger brother of a national politician), and Mr. Daeng (younger brother of Ms. Surang Sawang, who was convicted of drug dealing and sentenced to death). They instigated a gang that assaulted and harmed Mr. Phaiboon Muangsuwan (formal student and manager of Ven. Sington Narasabho) and Mr. Sai (a worker of Palor ancestry living at Suan Mettadhamma). At the same time, there was an attempt to recall the land permits (Sor Por Kor 4-01) of villagers surrounding Suan Mettadhamma Dhamma Practice Center in order to reorganize those Sor Por Kor 4-01 permits (presumably for the benefit of "influential persons."
In 2002, the monastic Sangha of Suan Mettadhamma Dhamma Practice Center and the land's owner authorized Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano to file a complaint on their behalf concerning illegal appropriation of significant portions of the land, threats of violence, and property theft. The local police ignored the complaint.
At the same time, the group of "influential persons" displayed their aggression and contempt for the laws of the land by stealing property from the center (e.g. a water pump) and breaking into the residences of the monks. Finally, this group destroyed the trees on and cleared a portion of the property (70-80 rai, about 30 acres) under the supervision of the Dhamma Center. They intended to sell that land to investors outside the area for tangerine plantations, which at that time was becoming a popular agribusiness throughout Fang District.
Eventually, the local police gave in to the pleas of the Dhamma Center's monks and arrested one of the workers hired to clear the forest and land. Later, the monks learned that a relative of a national political figure intimidated the police to release the accused worker. At a later date, the policeman who made the arrest was moved out of the area.
At about the same time, Mr. Manu Sangsu and RA Narong Karsasom (retired soldier) entered the center and in the vicinity of the monks' residences threatened Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano and Phra Supoj Suvacano, demanding "the monks need to end their involvement with this land and must leave the area quickly, otherwise their safety cannot be guaranteed." They also demonstrated that they were well armed and ready to do harm or even murder. Their parting words were, "Just because you are monks, don't think we won't dare to be violent."
When Phra Kittisak tried to file a complaint with the local police, they were evasive and refused all responsibility. The Sangha then decided to petition the Prime Minister Taksin Chinawat. The Office of the Prime Minister ordered an investigation, which led to the filing of the complaint and pressing of charges (still outstanding).
Nevertheless, the "influential persons" displayed no fear or remorse. Instead, they sent workers to cut down more trees and burn the forest on 20 rai (8 acres) of uninhabited land. This forced the monks to contact the Fang District Police Headquarters in order to set up warning posts and send patrols at the cost of 1500 baht per month.
The tense situation continued for over three years (2002 - 2005). Finally, about three months ago a group of individuals trespassed onto the land of the as yet unfinished complaint, plowed it, and tried to plant rubber trees, the most recent commercial crop to enter the area.
When nearby villagers learned of this, they informed Phra Supoj. Phra Supoj then contacted the police to send someone to investigate. We learned that an officer entered the property in question, forbid the driver of the tractor and his foreman to continue, and advised them to seek the permission of Phra Supoj before continuing.
At the same time, the Metta Dhammaraksa Foundation approved a budget for the monks to prepare a location, deepen a pond, and build a road for the construction of the foundation's new office within the Suan Mettadhamma Dhamma Practice Center. Originally, this was planned to be developed fully after the completion of Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu Centennial commemoration in 2006. (The monks, being the Buddhadāsa Study Group, were active in the planning and implementation of activities connected with the centennial throughout 2005 2006.)
It may have been because the Metta Dhammaraksa Foundation and the Sekhiyadhamma Group had well developed plans, had coordinated with various groups, were organizing activities together with local village organizations to an increasing level, and showed promise of starting new projects that finally these signs of commitment to and active use of the contested land led the persons responsible to decide to assassinate Phra Supoj Suvacano on June 17, 2005 (time uncertain). The site of the murder was at least 300 meters from Phra Supoj's residence in a place out of sight and sound both to people within the Center and anyone passing by on the road between the two nearest villages. A sharp weapon was used, viciously causing deep cuts and wounds all over the monk's body, demonstrating the cruelty and heartlessness of the murderer and his bosses.
For the reasons cited above, the death of Phra Supoj Suvacano involves many conditions and factors. The situation makes it unbelievable that the murder was simply a random act of violence. Much more likely, the crime was pre-meditated, prepared directly and indirectly, and systematic. It's viciousness seems intended to frighten and undermine the security not only on the other monks but of local villagers as well. If a kind, gentle monk isn't safe from such cruel and shameless violence, what safety is there for ordinary villagers? If this behavior is allowed to pass, if authorities fail to carry out their responsibilities, it is likely that other corrupt and criminal elements will be emboldened to use violence in pursuing their greedy ends.
Furthermore, the tragic death of Phra Supoj Suvacano means more than the death of one individual. This death also reveals the weakness of the government and the political system in their inability to protect the lives of citizens, enforce laws, investigate and prosecute crimes, preserve the environment and manage natural resources, and solve national problems. We also see the limitations of the citizenry and of civil society in watching over the government, politicians, police, and other officials responsible for the above areas. Finally, even the ability of religious people to seek out peaceful places close to nature in order to study and practice Dhamma, which is basic right guaranteed in the constitution, is now called into question.
More information and details will be forthcoming.
Translated by Santikaro
11 July 2005