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Help Loei's Davids fight mining Goliath

Loei villagers need urgent help to prevent their blood and water from being further poisoned with cyanide, mercury and manganese, allegedly from mining giant Tungkum. Tungkum is mining gold in Loei, and extracting gold requires extensive use of toxic chemicals. Shortly after Tungkum began mining, villagers complained about health problems. Local and provincial health authorities confirmed that local water and even the villagers' blood had excessive levels of poisons used in extracting gold.

To its credit, in 2011, the Yingluck Cabinet ordered Tungkum to fix the contamination problem. In 2012, Tungkum's storage pond collapsed, causing cyanide-laced waste water to contaminate local water sources. Still, Tungkum applied for new licences, which require environmental and health impact assessments (EHIAs). Hundreds of police, defence volunteers and company security guards prevented opponents from participating at the two EHIA public hearings. Deprived of their constitutional right to participate in matters affecting their environment and health, opponents blocked Tungkum's access to public roads, hindering operations. The local administrative organisation helped dismantle the blockade, aiding Tungkum, and the firm's sued for a massive Bt150 million in damages and filed criminal charges against 22 villagers.

The villagers are brave but heavily outgunned, in a classic David versus Goliath confrontation. Political parties and civil society should jump in to ensure that the villagers' constitutional right to be heard is upheld, and that they be given a fair trial, The local health department's tests have confirmed that serious damage to health has taken place. What the government should do now is identify and try the alleged perpetrators. These damages must then be remedied in full by the perpetrators, plus, say, treble damages to act as a deterrent.

"There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come," said Victor Hugo. The time for justice for poor as well as rich has come.

Burin Kantabutra

Bangkok


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