Military tightly monitors environment seminar in Isan

Military and police officers in northeastern Thailand recorded and monitored a seminar on environmental issues facing the Mekong River Basin and asked to have private talks with the event organisers.

About 10 military and police officers in uniform and plainclothes on Thursday afternoon came to the Thai-Laos Riverside Hotel in the Isan province of Nong Khai to record and monitor a public forum about Thai government projects in the Mekong River Basin.

The officers took pictures of the event and its participants and inspected seminar documents. Prior to the start of the discussion, they also requested to have words with the event organisers.

After discussions with the organisers, most officers left the venue, but two were deployed to record the rest of the seminar.

A police officer records a seminar on development projects and environmental issues in Nong Khai on 6 August 2015

The meeting was the second on environment issues concerning the government’s mega-projects in the region. As many as 140 people from 54 Tambon Administration Organisations (TAO) in Nong Khai Province participated in the forum.

According to Ormbun Thipsuna, a TAO member, the meeting of TAO members in Nong Khai was organised in accordance with the 2008 Act on Tambon Administration Organisations in order to gather people’s views on government plans to build Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and trash-powered electricity plants in the province’s Mueang District.

At the meeting, Suvit Kulapwong, Secretary-General of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) for the Isan region said that public participation is crucial in scrutinizing such mega-projects.

He expressed grave concern about the government’s plan to open private concessions to mine potash in the region, saying that the locals should have a say over the management of the region’s natural resources.  

Another participant, Krasan Panmisi, a representative from Wiang Khuk Sub-district, pointed out that one of the gravest concerns about the projects is the lack of transparency in government policies and participation of local communities who would be directly affected by the projects.

Last month at a meeting on SEZ plans in the northwestern border province of Tak, representatives of Ban Wang Takhian of Tha Sai Luat Subdistrict in Mae Sot District pointed out that the villagers in the area were never informed that large areas of Wang Takhian were going to be expropriated by the state for businesses and industries.

According to the current plan, two plots of land in Mae Sot are now being expropriated and cleared for SEZs. The first is a plot of about 2.2 sq.km and the second plot covers an area of about 1.3 sq.km. The authorities stated that the expropriated plots are empty public land. But many villagers have been using the area as farmland.

At the forum, Chomphunut Khruekhamwang, one of the village representatives, said that affected villagers who are more vocal than others are being intimidated by state officials in and out of uniform.

Phanom Saengplaeng, a Tambon Administration Organisation (TAO) member, said that the villagers felt that the authorities had neglected them because no one informed them about the expropriation plan.

He also alleged that the state authorities prevented villagers from coming together to voice concerns about the plan.

“We are suffering because the authorities attempted to prevent us from voicing our concerns; we even had to send our complaint to the NHRC in secret,” said Phanom.