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Company tent burnt down at mine after attack on nearby village

A checkpoint tent at the entrance of the Thung Kham Co gold mine in Loei's Wang Saphung district was burnt down early yesterday but people in nearby villages engaged in a long-running environmental dispute with the company denied they did it - and suggested the incident was attempt to frame them.

The Nation yesterday reported Ban Na Nong Bong villagers' claim that they were attacked by more than 100 armed and masked men on Thursday night, resulting in many injuries.

They said the attackers tore down a brick and concrete wall they had erected so several trucks could leave the company compound - reportedly loaded with what they suspect was a huge amount of illegal copper.

The villagers filed a complaint with police over the attack, calling on authorities to arrest the men for attempted murder and robbery.

Wang Saphung Police Station superintendent Colonel Somchai Srikhamdaeng vowed to investigate and catch the culprits within 15 days.

The fire broke out at about 6am at the company's checkpoint tent, as residents from six villages including Ban Na Nong Bong resumed makeshift checkpoints at entrances of the mine compound yesterday.

Three hours later, five policemen arrived to collect evidence about the attack on Thursday night.

A leading member of the anti-mining Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group, Samai Pakmee, said fellow protesters had nothing to do with the burning of the tent and they believed it was an attempt to frame them.

Villagers will host a ceremony today to boost the morale of those injured on Thursday night. He said the group had resolved to stay away from the company's property and would just man their makeshift checkpoints.

Residents of Ban Na Nong Bong and nearby villages have taken turns guarding the road in and out of the compound since last year to prevent any delivery of valuable minerals in the hope that their environment and health will get better if the company finally decides to leave the area.

Loei police chief Maj-General Sakda Wongsiriyanont, who took testimonies and gathered information relating to the attack, said that police would interview witnesses further and that villagers believed they knew who orchestrated the incident.

He said police would gather enough evidence so they could apply for arrest warrants, insisting the attackers would face legal action.

Sakda said the Loei Industry Office had confirmed that copper transported from the site was legal, and police would find out where the copper was transported to and whether the company was licensed to transport it.

Loei Governor Wiroj Jiwarangsan said the attack stemmed from a conflict that the community had to solve. He said the company had previously threatened to sue him for negligence over the villagers' erection of the wall, so he had instructed the Tambon Khao Luang Administrative Organisation and the Wang Saphung District Office to enforce laws strictly.

He said the Loei Industry Office should handle questions relating to the legality of minerals transported.

He urged both sides to remain calm while waiting for the June 3 court ruling and arbitration in relation to the dispute between Thung Kham and the villagers.

Thung Kham deputy managing director Pramote Pansit said the company had obtained legal concessions for mining and mineral transport, the latter of which could be done during the day or night.

He said a buyer transported the copper and Thung Kham had provided legal documents for its transport, which was to be done in two days according to Thai regulations.

Pramote denied Loei Provincial Administrative Organisation President Thanawut Thimsuwan, his former classmate, was involved with the mine.

Thanawut also insisted he had nothing to do with the mine and that he and his family had nothing to do with the transporting of the copper.

He said transporting minerals at night was not illegal.


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