FACTBOX-Four tourist hotspots hit by land rights disputes

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 8 February 2017 14:00 GMT

Women dressed in beaded animal skins perform celebratory dances at a Bushman community in this picture taken on April 05, 2006. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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From India to Thailand to Botswana, battles over land rights are breaking out all over the world

By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI, Feb 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In the remote Central African rainforest, two major charities are battling over the future of some 50,000 pygmies, beset by poverty, hunger and alcoholism after they were evicted from their lands to save iconic elephants and gorillas.

As wildlife populations shrink at an unprecedented rate, conservation groups are pouring millions of dollars into efforts to protect their habitats - which critics say often put animals before people.

Here are four tourist destinations, also home to tribal people, that been marred by land disputes.

* Around 3,000 tribal people from the Baiga and Gond tribes in India's Kanha Tiger Reserve in India that inspired Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" were evicted from their ancestral lands in 2014, according to Survival International. The government rejected allegations of forceful and illegal evictions, adding that some 1,200 villagers have been relocated since 2010 with compensation.

* Thailand is seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for the Kaeng Krachan National Park, amid controversy over its treatment of mountain-dwelling groups like the Karen and Hmong people. Karen activist Pholachi Rakchongcharoen disappeared in 2014, after accusing the authorities of forcibly evicting Karen from the park, Amnesty International said. Another Karen activist, Tatkamol Ob-om, was murdered in 2012, following his petition to the Thai National Human Rights Commission on behalf of Karen people over alleged violent eviction and harassment.Thai law gives Karen the right to stay on their land and practice traditional rotation farming, the United Nations says. Forest officials say the Karen degrade the forest and have brought almost 40 cases against them for contributing to global warming, resulting in large fines, according to the Minority Rights Group.

* Botswana's High Court ruled in 2006 that more than 1,000 San Bushmen had been wrongly evicted from ancestral hunting grounds in the Kalahari desert and should be allowed to return. The government continues to enforce a permit system, which Survival International has compared to apartheid-era pass laws. The U.N.'s special rapporteur on cultural rights in 2014 questioned why the San were evicted to conserve wildlife, while diamond mining has been allowed to continue.

* Maasai living near Tanzania's famous Serengeti and Ngorongoro national parks have been fighting government evictions for years, arguing for recognition of their customary rights although all land is government-owned. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples called on Tanzania's government in 2010 to stop evicting pastoralists without informed consent. Plans to displace 40,000 Maasai in Loliondo to make way for a luxury Gulf-owned hunting company were shelved in 2013 after protests, only to be revived in 2015, according to Cultural Survival. Eight investors have left Loliondo since 2012 due to conflict with Maasai nomads over land, Tanzanian media report.

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reuters, UNESCO, Amnesty International, Minority Rights Group, UNOHCHR, Survival International, Avaaz, Cultural Survival, Tanzania Daily News. (Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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