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Conflict over Sahaviriya’s planned smelting plant likely to escalate

On Nov 30, Sahaviriya Steel Industries held a meeting with local people at the Mae Ramphueng Tambon Administrative Organization office in Bang Saphan district, Prachuab Khiri Khan, while hundreds of opponents to its planned smelting plant also held their own meeting 300 metres away to discuss the impacts of the industry.

The Mae Ramphueng conservation group refused to attend the company's meeting, claiming the company had sent them invitation letters just two days before, and had organized a group of supporters to confront the opponents. So the conservation group decided to avoid the confrontation and possible provocation.

Jintana Kaewkao, one of the conservation group leaders, said that they had to arrange their own security guards at their venue as no policemen showed up, while Sahaviriya company's meeting was well guarded and the participants' vehicles were escorted by police and military personnel.

Jintana said that the situation had grown tense for over a week.  On Nov 29, a group of young men who called themselves Bang Saphan Development group, wearing red t-shirts and holding flags with nails on one end, drove on a pickup truck towards the conservation group's shelters that had been set up to guard the wetland.  They verbally abused the local people who took turn to guard the wetland, condemning them as ‘un-Thai', unpatriotic, and obstructive to progress.  Police came to talk to the young men and convinced them to leave before a clash between the two sides could occur.

"It's not a normal situation of differing views.  Cash and benefits have been offered to some local people.  Lives are at stake for some people's interests," Jintana said.

She said the conflict about the planned construction of the smelting plant had reached a dead end after a year-long dispute on the wetland.  A panel had been formed comprising representatives of the National Human Rights Commission, provincial authorities, and local people, but it had been ignored by the company. Now the local people had come to a definite conclusion to reject the planned smelting plant.

Jintana said Sahaviriya had gained profits from its steel factories in Bang Saphan for 15 years, and had had an impact on the local people.  It should spare the people their remaining resources and livelihoods.

The planned construction of Sahaviriya's smelting plant has been delayed for 9 months due to a land dispute in which documents for 200-300 rai of the 1,600-rai site were found to be illegally issued.  The company had to revise its construction plan and bought another plot of 200 rai to make up for the disputed land.  It has started to clear the site for construction.

On Nov 12, Sahaviriya Steel Industries Managing Director Win Viriyaprapaikij told Krungthep Thurakij newspaper that the company had to revise the investment plan on the smelting plant which is worth 524,200 million baht.

He said his company was preparing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for submission to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning by this November, and would ask for investment assistance from the Board of Investment.  Construction is expected to begin around mid-2009.       

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