Press Statement:


The Bamnet Narong Conservation Group

Military must stop intimidating villagers opposing the ASEAN Potash
Chaiyaphum PLC’s coal-fired power plant.

Since 16 February 2015, the government of the National Council for Peace
and Order (NCPO) has issued licenses to potash and rock salt mining of the
ASEAN Potash Chaiyaphum PLC in Bamnet Narong District, Chaiyaphum, a
collaboration of six ASEAN country members based on the Basic Agreement On
ASEAN Industrial Joint Ventures. This project was to replace the previous
one for the production of rock salt and soda ash, which had been cancelled
since 1989. After obtaining the licenses to operate potash and rock salt
mining, the company has embarked on constructing a coal-fired power plant
to meet the power need of the mines.

Initially, the majority of local villagers were not opposed to the potash
mining as they were expecting it to be a boost to local employment. But
after the licenses have been given to them, the company has also started
to push forward the construction of coal-fired power plant as well, and the
villagers felt like they were slapped on their faces and have been
deceived since for over two decades since the ASEAN agreement had come
into being, there was only the plan to develop potash mining, but the
coal-fired power plant. Lessons learned from the impacts of coal-fired power
plants in MaeMoh and Rayong have made local villagers fear for the potential
impacts and the future of their children. They are also concerned that the power
production capacity of the power plant shall be increased over the time
and it will cause more emission of toxic and pollution in local area.

Thus, the movement against the construction of the coal-fired power plant
has started as the villagers do not want to have their community facing
the same deadly predicament as in Mae Moh or in Rayong where local people have
suffered from massive health impacts causing extensive migration and
landlessness as well as the struggle for water supplies between the
villagers and the industrial sector.

Local people have formed themselves as the “Bamnet Narong Conservation
Group” and risen up against the construction of the coal-fired power
plant. Through verbal and written complaints, they have asked for more
information and submitted their letters of petition to concerned government
agencies including the Damrong Tham Center, embassies of the six ASEAN nations,
letters of petition submitted during the meeting of shareholders of the
investing company.

Still, the company has paid no attention to the voices of people living
around the mining site and continued to push ahead the coal-fired power
plant project. Meanwhile, any activities by the Bamnet Narong Conservation
Group have often been met with interventions from government officials who
have threatened to invoke power of the Constitution’s Section 44 and the
Public Assembly Act against them. Uniform and plainclothes police and
military officials have been despatched to conduct surveillance in the
villages. The group has been forced to ask for permission prior to
organizing any public events. They are told they could face prosecutions
for proceeding to participate or to organize any public activities. For
example, once, the military officials invoked power per Section 44 to have
the villagers remove their campaign t-shirts while attending a tripartite
forum of the mining industry. They were also barred from organizing a
traditional Buddhist ceremony to fundraise even though it had been
practiced for a long time. They had decided to change the venue of the
ceremony three times. Still, some men had been sent to put pressure on the
owners of the venues to disallow the organizing of the ceremony in March
2016. Even the pitching of banners opposing the coal-fired power plant in
various spots, in either private or public property, is prohibited.

Meanwhile, the company has been allowed to organize any activities to
promote their project and are not required to ask for any prior
permission. Local leaders including the Village Headmen and Tambon Headmen
have also been instructed to warn the villagers against any attempt to oppose or
protest the coal-fired power plant project. The local leaders keep telling
the villagers that if they do not stop organizing the opposition
activities, they shall be deprived of their right to access to
compensations for flood or drought and access to the Village Fund.

Of late, the intimidation by the military has intensified as on the
morning of 21 May 2016, around 10.50am, two military officials in their
fatigues and one plainclothes official with the Headman of Ban Pet, Moo 2,
Tambon Ban Pet, Bamnet Narong District, Chaiyaphum, came in a four-doored
bronze pickup truck and a sedan, which pulled over in front of the
residence of Mr. Samoe Thernmongkhon, a villager opposing the power plant
project and a member of the Bamnet Narong Conservation Group. They
approached the house and asked the father and sister of the activist where
he was. They said they needed to talk with him since he was a core member
of the group protesting against the power plant. Mr. Samoe was not there
as he had been out for work. The officials went on to look for him at his
workplace, though they could not find him there either. The officials came
back to his house and took photo of the house and his sister, before
leaving.

The coal-fired power plant project has been pressed ahead amidst
conflicts and by the use of sheer forces, a lack of impartiality among the
government officials and a lack of justice for the local villagers. As a
result, the local people feel scarred, suspicious and bitter. They are
holding a negative attitude toward the government officials and have begun
to question the development of potash mining which has been the impetus
for the construction of the coal-fired power plant.

The government who claims to restore happiness to its people should
therefore stop the action of the government officials, since what they
have been doing shall not bring about happiness to the people. The officials
are urged to behave impartially and ensure justice for the people. There shall
be no more surveillance and suppression of the right to freedom of
expression and the right to protect one own livelihood, the environment
and their decent culture. It is their fundamental right.

Last but not least, the Bamnet Narong Conservation Group declares its
stand against the construction of coal-fired power plant in any case. They
are determined to stand with Mr. Samoe Thernmongkhon to fight for their
cause despite all the intimidation, persecution and suppression against
them. Right now, the villagers are treated as a hostile party to the
government and are accused of stirring up havocs for the investors and the
state officials who support them. We shall stand side by side with Mr.
Samoe Thernmongkhon and with our bare hands shall continue our fight
peacefully.

In the wake of the second anniversary of the coup, a massive number of
people have been arrested simply for expressing their political views. In
fact, it is their very fundamental right and they should be allowed to
express themselves without being subject to intimidation and detention.

The massive power of the military has made military officials in
Chaiyaphum become merely mercenary troops ready to sever vested business
interest and to trample down on the rights and freedoms of the people who
have been opposed to the potash mining and the coal-fired power plant in
Bamnet Narong District, Chaiyaphum. Mr. Samoe Thernmongkhon is now facing
prosecution invoking the Head of the NCPO Order no. 13/2559 as any people
opposed to the construction of the coal-fired power plant are deemed as
troublemakers who jeopardize public order and economic and social
stability.

On behalf of the Bamnet Narong Conservation Group, we thank all villagers
from all villages and Tambons who have been standing with us in our fight
for over one year. We feel appreciated to our friends from various places
who have shared with us their solidarity in the attempt to preserve one’s
homeland and the Earth.

We shall fight bare-handedly and assertively today and in the future. And
we are determined to pass on to our children a toxic-free and peaceful
land.

With the power of faith and unity
The Bamnet Narong Conservation Group
22 May 2016