Thai Government Reviews Granting Mining Lease to Canadian Potash Company - Hundreds of Villagers Visit Industry Ministry

Several hundred villagers from the Udon Thani Environmental Conservation Group gathered in Bangkok this week to voice concerns to the Ministry of Industry about the Asia Pacific Potash Corporation's (APPC) planned potash mine in Udon Thani province. APPC is 90% owned by the Canadian company Asia Pacific Resources Ltd. (APR).

APPC has said it will apply for a mining lease within the next few months. This lease is the final application step for the potash mine project and the decision on the lease lies with the Ministry of Industry.

The villagers' demonstration started at 5:00 am on the 28th of April when around 800 villagers climbed out of buses and began to set up camp outside the Ministry. Throughout the day, various local community members took turns addressing the potential environmental and social dangers of the mine on an open stage.

Eventually, Ministry of Industry Secretary Thilayut Wanechang and Deputy Permanent Secretary Pradetchai Meekhuneeam invited village leaders and non-governmental organizations to sit down for negotiations. "I am happy to see that you have come here. Traveling to Bangkok to demonstrate signifies that you understand your rights as Thai people. We will try to listen to one another and come to some consensus together," Thilayut said. These discussions produced an agreement between the government and village leaders towards two central points: resolving the project's ownership, and its environmental assessment.

The Ministry will help organize a special committee to review the legality of the exploration contract signed between APPC and the government. The initial contract specified at least 50% Thai ownership of the project but subsequently a supplementary contract was signed by the company and the government that transferred majority ownership to the Canadian shareholder APR. This review committee will have representatives appointed by both the Conservation Group and the government and is set to commence work in two weeks.
The Ministry of Industry also agreed to fully consider the recommendations presented by a team that is currently reviewing the project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This six-person team of academics and lawyers is a special working group, overseen by Dr. Prinya Nutalaya, a prominent geologist in the country. If the committee finds the EIA document to be inadequate in any way, it would recommend that the company carry out a new EIA. If this happens, the Ministry of Industry has promised that they will not consider giving the Mining Lease to APPC.

The Udon Thani Environmental Conservation Group expressed satisfaction in their dialogue with the government and returned home to their 24 villagers throughout Udon Thani province on the evening of the 28th. A small contingent of leaders have stayed behind to further negotiate with representatives from the Ministry of Industry. "I feel that the government really took the time to listen to us this time," said Conservation Group leader Mahnee Boondrot.

"We have to wait to see if all of these recent agreements are carried through, but I feel good that they made an effort to hear all of our requests," said Boondrot.

The leaders also met with the various groups in Bangkok, including the Campaign for Popular Democracy, to ask support for their struggle.

Foundation for Ecological Recovery
409 TVS Building, 4th Floor
Soi Rohitsuk, PracharatBumpen Rd.
HuayKhwang, Bangkok 10320 THAILAND
Tel. +66 2 691 0718-20 Fax. +66 2 691 0714
e-mail: [email protected]

For more information see: Asia Pacific Resources Ltd: Potash Mining in Northeast Thailand - backgrounder by Catherine Coumans, September 2002