The authorities continue to suppress local activists and villagers who oppose petroleum exploration in villages in Thailand’s Northeast.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the military on 25 February brought Thawatchai Surat, a northeastern energy activist, to Buriram Muang Police Station and tried to force him to sign an agreement not to campaign against a petroleum operator. However, Thawatchai refused to sign any document.
Thawatchai is one of the activists who has been campaigning against petroleum exploration by Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum, a Chinese petroleum company granted state concessions by the Department of Mineral Fuels since 2014 to explore potential oil fields in the northeastern provinces of Buriram, Maha Sarakham, Roi Et, and Surin.
At the police station, the authorities asked Thawatchai to report details about villagers who are against the company and whether they are backed back politicians or interest groups, and their demands.
Thawatchai added that the authorities also asked about the Thai PBS TV programme ‘Real Life Is Worse than a Soap Opera’, which interviewed him last year about the impact of exploration operations in the region, and instructed him to inform the authorities of any planned future programme about the conflict.
On 16 September 2014, several police officers visited him regarding the Thai PBS programme.
Since the 2014 coup d’état, officers, some in plainclothes, have regularly come to the village to monitor the meetings of anti-exploration villagers. The surveillance created a climate of fear among the villagers, who started to censor themselves, he said.
He pointed out that the recent petroleum exploration operations shook the ground and damaged nearby houses.
In Khon Kaen, Apico (Korat) Limited, a US-based oil and gas exploration company which received a state concession to explore the Dongmoon oil fields in Kranuan District, informed the villagers last week that the company will continue drilling operations on 18 March despite local opposition.
Last month, about 40 armed police and military officers assisted the company while it moved drilling equipment to the potential site. Due to the military presence, the villagers could merely look on and pray.
A halt to the procedure was actually ordered by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) due to its controversial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.
On the night of 14 February, about 20 police and military officers from Khon Kaen Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) threatened village leaders and a local environmental activist with martial law if the villagers insisted on obstructing the company’s operations.