Loei villagers face threat of massive compensation

national February 24, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Protesters fighting gold mine firm over village walls hit with lawsuit

The compensation bill from two civil lawsuits against Loei’s gold mine protesters could amount to Bt1.83 billion by February 28, with the Loei Provincial Court last week postponing a preliminary hearing for another criminal lawsuit against seven protesters. 
The seven are accused of intruding on mine property and walling up a road leading to the mine in Wang Saphung district. 
Some 300 protesting villagers requested to join the hearing last Monday, in which Thung Kham Ltd Co managing director Bundit Saengseritham was expected to testify that the company was damaged by the accused protesters’ actions. 
A village representative said Bundit had to answer whether the protesters’ so-called “heart walls” were built on the company’s land or public land, and whether he believed the year-long move by the six surrounding villages to protect their environment and health was wrong. 
But after the court postponed the hearing until that afternoon to allow all 300 villagers to be in attendance, Bundit said he could not testify in the afternoon due to a previous appointment.
The court then postponed the hearing until April 28.
This preliminary examination was originally set for January 20. 
On that day the court summoned a witness from the Thung Kham side, who reportedly couldn’t provide a clear territory line between the company’s land and the public land and didn’t see the accused protesters erecting the walls. But Bundit was not present, so the court set Feb 17 for his testimony. 
In the two civil lawsuits against 20 villagers that could result in them being hit with a compensation bill of Bt1.83 billion. plus interest, negotiation attempts failed. 
The latest attempt was on December 13, when Thung Kham’s offer to drop all lawsuits in exchange for the walls being dismantled was turned down by protesters. The walls were erected last August. 
The lawsuits against a total of 33 people stemmed from the decision by the six villages to protect their communities. 
The villages, which have 3,737 residents in 1,066 households, want to stop the company’s trucks – which they believe carry toxins – from passing through their communities without their approval.
Thung Kham received a gold-mining concession for over six plots of land covering 1,300 rai in 1995, and it started mine operations in 2006. 
It also obtained a special licence to explore for gold in another 106 plots in the province, which resulted in its applications for concessions for more land. 
After Thung Kham launched its operations in tambon Wang Sapung, there were reports about the villages’ environment being allegedly contaminated from metal substances and cyanide.
Led by the Khon Rak Ban Kerd group, the villagers filed complaints with the relevant agencies but the problem remained unsolved. 
A Cabinet resolution on February 8, 2011 instructed the Industry Ministry to order the company to suspend its expansion plans and concession request while a probe into the alleged contamination was held.
Also ordered were a cost-benefit assessment based on the natural resources in the area, mineral royalties and the villagers’ livelihood based on the self-sufficiency economy and environmental conservation model.
A health impact-assessment report was also ordered but none of these things have been conducted.
Thung Kham held public-scoping events on December 23, 2012 and September 8, 2013 relating to its mining-concession requests for the two additional plots but the villagers from surrounding communities and the Khon Rak Ban Kerd group were reportedly barred from attending them.
Despite years of conflict, both sides seem to have a long way to go.
There have been several court battles, with a team of lawyers with human rights expertise arguing the protest was a justified move to protect the communities’ rights. 
The legal service was provided as legal aid.
There are four lawsuits in relation to the Loei gold mine protest;
1.A civil lawsuit (Por 974/2556) against 14 people for Bt50 million in compensation plus a Bt10 million daily fine until the concrete “walls” along the road to the gold mine are torn down.
2.A civil lawsuit (Por 859/2556) against six people for Bt70 million in compensation.
3.A criminal lawsuit (Ore 4217/2556) against seven people for property intrusion and property damage.
4.A criminal lawsuit (Ore 4542/2556) against seven people for property intrusion.

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