INDUSTRY MINISTER Atchaka Sibunruang yesterday cancelled her planned visit to an under-construction potash mine in Chaiyaphum province for security reasons, due to an ongoing protest against a planned coal-fired power plant to support the mine.
Yesterday, the Industry Ministry suddenly changed her plan to inspect potash mines in the Northeast after learning that hundreds of protesters had gathered at Asean Potash Chiyaphum’s mine in the northeastern province’s Bamnet Narong district.
The minister had been scheduled to inspect the mine in the afternoon after visiting the Thai Kali potash mine in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Dan Khun Thot district.
However, the ministry was informed that hundreds of protesters were awaiting their arrival at the potash mine in Chaiyaphum. The minister’s team decided to return to Bangkok, concluding the visit at the Thai Kali mine.
After being informed about the situation, Primary Industries and Mines Department director-general Chat Hongtiamchant said there was nothing to see at Asean’s potash mine and he would take the media to visit the site later.
“Asean’s potash mine is still under construction. There is nothing, just an empty ground there, unlike this mine [Thai Kali]. If the media wants to visit the [Asean] site, I will arrange the media trip to Chaiyaphum later,” Chat said.
Bhan Phongpipak said he and his fellow protesters wanted to hand the minister a petition calling for the Bamnet Narong coal-fired power plant project to be scrapped.
He said up to 300 people waited for the minister since early in the morning.
The locals want the power-plant project halted because they fear it will pollute the area and adversely impact their livelihoods.
“We are disappointed that the minister decided not to be here, but we still insist that we don’t want the coal-fired power plant because it will severely pollute the environment and harm people’s health,” he said.
He said most of the protesters were not totally against the potash mine but they did not agree with the idea of the coal-fired power plant supporting the mining operation.
“If the authorities do not care about our concerns, we will have to object to the entire potash mine because its operation will affect local people’s livelihood,” he said.
He said the protesters were closely monitored by police and military officers.
Asean Potash Chaiyaphum was granted the potash mine concession from the Primary Industries and Mines Department in February last year.
It is scheduled to begin operations in 2019.
The potash-mine project has been highly criticised by locals because of the plan to build the coal-fired power plant to facilitate the mining operation.
The Environmental Impact Assessment for the coal-fired power plant is still being considered by the Office of Natural Resources and the Environmental Policy and Planning.