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Tears at Bangkok memorial for murdered activist

Pinnapha Phrueksapan wiped away tears away at a sombre commemoration ceremony in Bangkok of her husband's life (AFP Photo/Joe Freeman)

Bangkok (AFP) - The wife of a murdered activist whose charred remains were found dumped in a Thai reservoir led an emotional memorial Monday, saying their five young children had been left bereft by his death.

Thailand is among the most deadly places in Asia for environmental and rights defenders -- the United Nations has counted over 80 cases of enforced disappearances in the country since 1980.

Ethnic Karen leader Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen -- known as Billy -- disappeared in April 2014 while working on a lawsuit accusing officials of destroying homes in Kaeng Krachan national park.

The park chief at the time, Chaiwat Limlikitaksor, was one of the last people to see him alive, after Billy was detained for apparently collecting honey illegally.

But Chaiwat insisted he let him go and has denied any involvement in his disappearance. He was later moved to run a larger national park.

In April this year divers found a burnt fragment of Billy's skull stuffed in an oil drum in a reservoir inside the park, giving relatives their first confirmation of his death.

Surrounded by their five children, Billy's wife Pinnapha Phrueksapan wiped away tears away at a sombre commemoration ceremony in Bangkok of her husband's life.

She described the "very difficult" years since his disappearance, telling mourners "we are like a house without a main pillar".

"I want to tell the authorities... not to bully people without power. You (Thai authorities) detained Billy but didn't send him through normal procedures and then he disappeared," she said, her voice shaking.

"You used rules for dogs, not laws for humans."

The Karen are an ethnic minority from eastern Myanmar many of whom fled military abuses for neighbouring Thailand.

Pinnapha said she now hoped justice would be served.

The Department of Special Investigations -- the Thai equivalent of the FBI -- this month ruled the case a murder and vowed to arrest those responsible.

A DSI official said they were still gathering evidence "which will take a while" before any charges can be brought.

Rights groups say Billy's case sweeps across several problems plaguing activists in Thailand, including forced disappearances, environmental destruction and the rights of indigenous groups.