Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Resources Ltd. (APR) is facing both constitutional challenges and vigorous community opposition to its plans to exploit the Udon Thani potash concession in northeastern Thailand. APR holds 90% of the concession and wants to exploit the resource through underground mining.
There has never been large-scale underground mining in Thailand to date, necessitating an amendment to Thailand's Minerals Act for this project to go ahead. There is strong opposition to the amendment from the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and from independent Senators who argue that the amendment violates landholder property rights under section 48 of Thailand's Constitution by allowing underground mining without the permission of, or compensation for, landholders above the proposed mine. The bill allowed mining beneath private land without the need to seek permission or compensate the owner, if the mining was to take place at least 100 metres below ground.
The Constitutional Court has started to hear the case. Mr. Parinya, one of the senators testifying in the court case said, "mining poses environmental concerns. Even if the operation took place at more than 100 metres below the surface, it could still affect artesian wells. Many owners dug their wells below 300 metres which meant their right to use their property extended further than 100 metres." (From an update by Supawadee Susanpoolthong of the Thai environmental organisation Project for Ecological Recovery (PER).)
Another Senator, Jon Ungpakorn, said, "Landowners should have a say in whether access was granted and be properly compensated." (Update from PER.)
There is also strong opposition to the proposed mine from local communities who fear widespread subsidence, salt contamination of agricultural land, and groundwater contamination. Their concerns are backed by APR's own findings, which are reflected in the environmental impact assessment, as well as by independent scientific reviewers.
Protests over damage done by exploration began in 1993 and have gained considerable momentum with currently over 1000 people from 21 villages within the proposed mining area, joining regular protest marches and rallies at the provincial hall, local temples and in Bangkok in front of Parliament house.
Mr. Suwit Gulapwong of the Northeastern Mineral Resources Management Committee reports that the site has been effectively blockaded for the past six months by local villagers.
According to recent reports, APR has recently set up a public relations office in the village closest to the mine site and hired a Australian public relations expert to run the operation.