High-ranking soldiers get jail terms for assault of anti-mine villagers

A Provincial Court in Isan, Thailand’s northeast, has handed down jail terms to two military officers accused of involvement in a violent assault against anti-mine villagers while dismissing lawsuits filed by a mining company against anti-mine activists.

The Provincial Court of the northeastern province of Loei on Tuesday, 31 May 2016, sentenced Lt Col Poramin Pomnak and his father, retired Lt Gen Poramet Pomnak, to three years and two years in prison respectively for physical assault, unlawful detention and carrying unauthorised weapons, the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) and Transborder News reported.

The two were convicted for their involvement in an incident called Black May, which occurred on the night of 15 May 2014, when about 200 armed men dressed in black stormed a checkpoint leading to the controversial gold mine of Thung Kham Company in Ban Na Nong Bong Village of Khao Luang Sub-district in Wang Saphung District of Loei in an attempt to transport mineral ore from the mine.

The unidentified men at that time assaulted the villagers, used guns to intimidate them and held some of them hostage.

Among the assaulted villagers were Suraphan Rujichaiwat and Samai Pakmee, key leaders of Khon Rak Baan Koed (KRBK), translated in English as ‘People Who Love Their Home’, a local anti-mine activist group in Wang Saphung District.

Suraphan and nine other KRBK members are plaintiffs in the case.

According to Rattanamanee Polkla, the lawyer representing the anti-mine villagers, the two military officers will submit a bail request to appeal the court verdict.

On the same day, the Loei Provincial Court read the verdict of the Appeal Court dismissing charges against Samai Pakmee, chairman of Khao Luang Sub-district Administration Office, and Konglai Pakmee, Ban Na Nong Bong Village Chief.

The two were accused by Thung Kham Company of unlawfully erecting a checkpoint in the village to bar trucks from the mining operator from transporting mineral ores and putting up a banner says ‘this village does not want a mine’ on the village gate.

About 150 anti-mine villagers were present at the provincial court in anticipation of the verdicts in both cases.

Tension between villagers and the company reached a peak in September 2013 when the villagers barricaded the mine entrance, blocking trucks, each of which normally carries 15 tons of cyanide waste, from passing through their villages. Although the sound of the machines disappeared and the sound of chirping birds returned, the villagers had to live in fear of judicial harassment, thugs, gunmen and death threats.

Currently, Thung Kham Company has halted mining operations since mid-2013. However, the company is currently trying to get permission from the authorities to renew the mining concession in Wang Saphung District.

Villagers fight thugs on the night of 15 May 2014  Only two men were charged and have been released on bail. Photo courtesy of Loei Ore Mine's Facebook

 

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