The military has released villagers detained for protesting against the junta’s plans for a coal-fired power plant in Krabi Province. While the junta has promised to suspend the power plant project, it remains to be seen whether it keeps its word.
On 19 February 2017, the military released five protest leaders who were detained after hundreds marched on Government House in Bangkok to demand a halt to the junta’s plans to build a coal-fired power plant in the southern province of Krabi.
In addition to releasing the protest leaders, the junta has agreed to halt the Environmental and Health Impact Assessments (EHIA) of the power plant and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a port for transporting coal. According to the law, the power plant project must be suspended if its EHIA report is cancelled.
The junta will clarify its policy in a cabinet meeting today, raising fears it may renege on its word.
Events came to a head on 17 February when villagers from Krabi were alerted that the power plant had been given a green light, prompting protesters to camp at Government House overnight. The following day, officers detained three of the movement’s leaders and transferred them to a military base. In the afternoon, two more protest leaders were detained.
On 18 February, another 11 villagers were detained without charge, though there was reference to NCPO Order 3/2558 on Maintaining Public Order and National Security. The five detained protest leaders were Prasitthichai Nunual, Akkaradet Chakchinda, ML Rungkun Kitiyakara, Banjong Nasae and Thatchapong Kaedam.
That evening, representatives from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science began negotiating with authorities for the release of the detained villagers. After two hours of negotiations, the 11 villagers were released.
According to EJF representative Surachai Trongnam, at first officials insisted that the protesting villagers return to their hometowns but ultimately allowed them to stay in Bangkok due to the presence of lawyers. However, the vehicles provided for the villagers suggested orders had changed when they instead transported the villagers back to their hometowns.
Protests continued until the morning of 19 February when the five protest leaders were finally released.
Upon being released, Prasitthichai announced the government had agreed to halt the power plant’s EHIA and the port’s EIA. The government also promised to release a report detailing the effects of the industrial projects.
However, Prasitthichai warned in a speech at the 14 October Memorial that the government’s promises to halt the power plant project are open to change in the future.
Villagers will hold their breath until a cabinet meeting today when the government will clarify its stance on the power plant in Krabi. They hope that the junta keeps its word that future industrial projects in the region will involve a neutral party to mediate village and state interests.
While villagers have returned to Krabi, the movement’s leaders emphasised the protest was not merely about their province, but was about the future of coal-powered energy in Thailand. They have vowed to continue campaigning for cleaner energy options in the country.
The march on Government House has been the largest political mobilisation under the King Rama X by far.