Loei, Loei Province, Thailand, September 2, 2015
The Thai military in Isan, Thailand Northeast, prevented an environmental youth camp in an area with an ongoing mine conflict in Loei Province from taking place, saying that the event might affect national security.
According to BBC Thai Service, on Wednesday, 26 August 2015, military officers contacted the head of Nonsawang Buddhist monastery in Wang Saphung District of the northeastern province of Loei, forbidding the monk not to allow Thai Volunteer Service (TVS), a CSO group, to use the temple to organise an environmental youth camp.
Last week, the military officers reportedly warned the organisers that the event might be illegal under the 2015 Public Assembly Act and affect national security. They said that the organisers must ask for permission to organise such event.
Wasinee Bunti, a TVS staff, said that the Wang Saphung environmental youth camp was initially planned in late June this year, but some members of Dao Din Group, the activist group based in Khon Kaen Province whose members have been active in advocating for Wang Saphung villagers, were arresting for anti-junta their activities. Therefore, it was postponed to 29-30 August 2015.
She said that the purpose of the camp called Hak Ban Hao (love one’s village) is to educate the local youths about the creeks in the district and environmental preservation.
The TVS staff added that about 20 youths between 10-20 years-old were supposed to attend the coming event. She said that there were supposed to be more participants, but many Wang Saphung villagers do not want their children to become involved in the ongoing conflict with the mining company and the local authorities.
The conflict between the Wang Saphung villagers and Tungkam Co. Ltd., a gold mining company which won the state contract the mine the area, has been protracted for many years.
The villagers founded Khon Rak Baan Koed Group (KRBK), translated as ‘People Who Love Their Home’, to campaign against the mining activities, claiming that they have suffered numerous environmental problems.
According to the group, about 3,700 villagers from 1,000 families have suffered health problems from drinking the water from the area’s creeks. Nonetheless, the company said that the claims were false.
The tension between villagers and the mine operator reached its peak in September 2013 when the villagers barricaded the mine entrance, blocking trucks, each of which normally carries 15 tons of cyanide waste, from passing through the area.
In May 2014, which the villagers call ‘15 Black May’, villagers in Ban Na Nong Bong, one of the villages in Wang Saphung, were beaten up by 300 armed men and the leader of the KRBK reported that they also received a death threats from people believed to be working for the company.
The mining operator has filed seven civil and criminal lawsuits against 33 villagers most of whom are KRBK members and demanded compensation of 270 million baht (about 76 million USD) for causing losses to the mining operation.
Since the May 2014 coup, the military has stepped in, halted the mining operations and ordered the villagers not to hold public gatherings over the issues. However, many KRBK members alleged that the military are biased towards the mining operator.