Military threatens villagers who oppose exploration of oil field in northeast

Amid tension with villagers, the Thai military continues to help oil company transport equipment into a potential oilfield in the northeast, despite an NHRC order to halt the process.

Despite a recent order by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for the company to halt operations due to the project’s controversial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), military officers and district officials have helped the company to occupy major roads leading to the oil field to secure the convoy’s access to the area since Saturday.

The villagers gather and pray on the road after the authorities ignored their request to halt the drilling operation.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Jaturapong Bokbon, Deputy Head of Khon Kaen Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), on Monday morning dispatched 200 police, military, and volunteer defense officers to escort a convoy of 20 trucks of Apico (Korat) Limited, a US-based oil and gas exploration company, into the potential Dongmoon oilfield in Kranuan District of the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.

The villagers gathered along the road to the field and took pictures of the operation to avoid violent confrontation.

The authorities also threatened village leaders, environmental activists, and students not to take pictures of the event.

One of many banners posted by local activists reads “What about the EIA procedure that says [the oilfield operator] needs to inform the villagers in affected areas 15 days prior to operations?”

The villagers of Kranuan District have long opposed the plan to explore the oilfield because the plan and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) were conducted without the involvement of local people who are to be directly affected by the operations.

In January, the villagers collected names and submitted a petition to Khon Kaen Administrative Court in an attempt to stop the drilling operation.

Volunteer defence officers line up along the main road leading to the oilfield to guard the Apico Company convoy.  

On Saturday night, about 20 police and military officers from Khon Kaen Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) came to talk to village leaders and a local environmental conservation group and threatened to use martial law if the villagers obstruct the company’s operations because the Department of Mineral Fuels permitted the company to explore the field as of last Wednesday.

Since last week, the company has so far transported 45 trucks loaded with drilling equipment into the field, according to TLHR.