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Demonstrators Storm Loei Hotel, Rally Against Mining Meeting

2011 April 9
by The Isaan Record

LOEI – Over nine hundred villagers thwarted a local company’s attempt on April 7th to hold a public hearing regarding the establishment of a nearby copper mine.  Flooding the open-air lobby of the Loei Palace Hotel in the Muang district, Huay Muang villagers and their supporters waved flags and chanted into bullhorns as they barricaded the doors to the proposed meeting room.

Demonstrators came together to express their concerns that the Puthep Company’s mine could have adverse environmental effects on the Hin Lek Fai Mountain, which provides for the livelihood of many people in the region.

Villagers from Huay Muang grew concerned about mining’s potential dangers when they learned about their neighbors in Na Nong Bong, a village caught between two gold mines just 30 kilometers away. There, villagers have complained of contaminated water destroying their crops and causing skin ailments.

In addition, a 2010 study conducted by the Loei Provincial Office of Public Health and Wang Saphung Hospital found that almost 500 villagers who live near the mines have mercury and cyanide levels that exceed safety standards. These numbers seem to confirm concerns of even those in Bangkok. It has been reported that the Cabinet recently asked the Industry Ministry to refrain from granting mining concessions before further researching the potential effects of mines.

Sukan Boonkerd, a Huay Muang native and activist, held fast to the lessons of Na Nong Bong when his organization, The Loei Province Nework, organized Thursday morning’s event. “We are 100% against this mine” he told reporters.

Not all of those in attendance, however, were as strongly opposed as Mr. Sukan. “I didn’t come to support the mine, but I still wanted to hear what the company had to say,” a villager said as she picked at a box lunch provided by the mining company.

Students from the Khon Kaen activist group Dao Din lock arms with villagers as they block the main entrance to the Loei Palace Hotel.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sukan insisted that this event was not a protest against a public hearing. “We want the hearing to be accessible to all the 2,000 people who would be directly affected by this mine,” the village leader said.

He added that if the company had made the meeting more accommodating, people would have attended. Mr. Sukan was referring to the 250-seat meeting room that Puthep Co. reserved for the hearing, a space far too small to allow for the participation of thousands of villagers that could be impacted.

Puthep Co., a subsidiary of Australia’s PanAust Ltd. and Thailands’ Padeang Industry Ltd., had organized the public hearing to serve as an early step in the drafting of an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The 2007 Thai constitution mandates the implementation of EIAs to analyze the potential risks of large-scale development projects.

Of the more than 20 mineral extraction projects in Isaan, many are located on mountains, in forests, and near wetlands. Rural villagers, 90% of whom are farmers, seek to maintain access to these intact environments not only for their livelihood, but also for their sustenance and culture.

In the face of these challenges, communities from across the Northeast have banded together in a show of solidarity against mining. Just two days before the Huay Muang demonstration, Udon Thani citizens fighting against the construction of a potash mine drew over 700 participants, some of whom hailed from Huay Muang and Na Nong Bong.

Mr. Wit, a community leader from Na Nong Bong, explained why he attended Thursday’s event at the Loei Palace Hotel. “We support villagers in Huay Muang and Udon Thani because we all face the same struggles. We hope they will help us fight as well.”

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Mike Lewis permalink
    May 22, 2011

    The officials who are approving false EIA reports in return for corruption payments and those inspectors who accept corruption payments in lieu of carrying out their pollution control enforcement duties must be removed from Government service. These officials and the production Companies are a menace to society. They are responsible for numerous cases of ill health and associated deaths resulting from the criminal release of toxic substances into the environment.
    The Gold Mine managers, the managers of the local Government environmental control authority and, the Government officials that approved the EIA reports for these mines need to be investigated by the serious crimes department and the guilty should be charge in a court of law. Companies that flout the environment protection laws must be fined heavily as is already done in Western countries. Pollution monitoring by a Government agency must be enforced and local NGO’s must have access to the control records such that corruption can be defeated.

    The protesters have the moral high ground, it is their health, life and livelihood that are being traded by corrupt Government and Company officials. The Government in Bangkok is responsible for addressing the protesters complaints.

  2. May 28, 2011

    Well… that’s right Mike! But the Thai courts function to protect the criminals in government responsible for the crimes you cite, and to imprison ordinary Thais for decades for lese majeste.

  3. Sam Deedes permalink
    June 10, 2011

    According to the World Health Organisation, the acceptable patients per doctor ratio is at 1:5,000. In Thailand it is 1:7,000. The breakdown is even more shocking in the northeastern province of Loei, where the ratio is 1:14,000. In Bangkok it is 1:850.

    Source: Bangkok Post 3 June 2011

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