Note taken by Sotheara from Cambodia
Mekong Youth Assembly had a meeting with the community representatives to learn and to discuss about their concerns, and how they are coping with struggles due to the coal development project.
The community representatives made a presentation about their case, the details are as follows:
Ban Haeng is the first village that fights against the mining project. They networked with other villagers in working against the mining company. The mining project was proposed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to build a concrete plant and a coal power plant.
People in the village begun to do their advocacy campaign, and gradually came together, then set up a group. There is no one from NGOs or outsiders involved. They came together without any support from outside the village, so it is convenient to conduct a meeting and create the group.
Later, they decided to work with a NGO that they trust the most at the beginning. At the moment, there is only one NGO and one lawyer team they are working with. They don’t want to work with many NGOs to avoid any conflict. Villagers who joined the advocacy group collect data and documentation for their campaign.
The company wanted to acquire about 2,000 rai (a 500-rai to build a park or a green area as like the Mae Moh Project’s). The company firstly came to demarcate the land and divide it into five blocks for mining area. The company and government representatives come together for land demarcation without informing the villagers and published a report to the public on the land use for mining and posted the report and the community for the public complaint within 20 days.
Based on their presentation it is very hard to fight with this company. The first thing we must know is our own area (community) in term of land use, but if we don’t know our land size we cannot do things properly. Since we know the size of land the company wants to acquire, then we can advocate to reducing the land size from 2,000 rai to only 219 rai.
Fortunately, the villagers read the report and they started to write their complaint letter, and send it to the government officers. At the beginning, villagers have divided into two groups: against and support the project.
The movement started
People who are against the mining project start writing some protest signs around their village and houses. During night time the company came to destroy the sign because they didn’t want people to protest the mining project. Since then, they formed their group called ‘Save Ban Haeng’ advocating and fighting for this case.
Ban Haeng villagers were working hard on their campaign movement while they realized that there are some people who agree with the project. However, it is not unusual because they cannot force all people to join or agree with ‘Save Ban Haeng’. Villagers started doing a fund-raising for collective purposes such as a village ceremony and a funeral. As some people disagreed to contribute to the fund, those are the people who accepted the coal power plant project. In this case, those villagers can get a support from the mining company for a family member’s funeral for about 100,000 Baht. On the other hand, for villagers who are against the project they can get a financial support from their own saving group for 70,000 Baht for a funeral.
That was the first starting point to demonstrate to people that they should work together and strengthen the Save Ban Haeng group.
The Save Ban Haeng is the first group in advocating and submitting a complaint to the company. The key strategy in doing their advocacy campaign is they started from grassroots to the upper level. They realized that the map, that has been created by the company, has violated their rights because there was no community participation at the stage of area mapping.
The area for building the mining project is not simply a piece of land, but there are forest, animal habitats, river streams, rice field, and other natural resources –the locals use to sustain their livelihood. Villagers’ observation when a project started is that there is always a mapping process in the early stage. Therefore, villagers started to demarcate different parts of the area or land use because they knew exactly where their rice fields and other land use were.
After that, the group started considering the relevant laws in Thailand in order to use to support their case. Different laws can be used to sue the company in different courts in the country. They didn’t have big campaigns or advocacy activities, but they gathered signatures to the petition and negotiation.
The case has been going for seven years, the company still cannot pursue with their project. They said that to solve their problem is easy. First of all, we have to make it clear with the people who agreed and disagreed. Make it clear on the land use. Then, we all come to solve the problem with the company by sending the case to the court and negotiate.
In order to deal with the people who agree with the mining project and received money from the company, the Save Ban Haeng fellows started being silent – they don’t talk to those people, don’t buy stuff from their shops, and don’t sell things to them.
One of the most interesting points is that land cannot be sold, they can only be used in the village (such as farming), and must pass the land to their next generation in the family. Thai land law mentioned that the area where assigned for agriculture; the mining company cannot use to operate their project. On the road, they are not allowed to do mining as well.
For the mining area, the company built the road only 6 meters but people ask to keep 50 meters for both sides of the road for safety. Along the river stream, it also has to keep for 50 meters each side. The company agreed to have reserved a buffer zone as because villagers have been attending at all meetings with provincial level and demanding it from the government and the mining company.
Everything happening is against the environmental law. Though the local people asked the provincial governor to come and demarcated their land to help create the buffer zone, and they published a joint report.
The first law on the forest was commenced in 1941 because at that time there was a concession era for logging. According to this law, no one can do anything in the protected and conserved natural forest even the private sector. After the determination, they have found that the company can only be granted the land for only 219 rai. However, the proposed mining project location is only 1 km away from the village of Ban Haeng.
Collecting data is very important to do an advocacy and that we know our land, our community, clearly, and the existing laws that can help our case. Moreover, the Save Ban Haeng group did was to attend many meetings and conferences to share their case and learn from others throughout Thailand.
There are about 1,400 people from two villages around the mining project, among those only about 500 to 600 people can travel to do the protest because some of them are busy, they are children, and some are elderly people. They don’t have resources but they can get support from NGOs.
The case is still in court. Collectively community wanted to cancel this project from their community not to be developed in their community land. They will keep struggling on these issues by using their strength and solidarity together with the other communities and network that could possibly help them to overcome their problem.
The last strategy is to cut the access to the bridge, and all villagers will come to lay down on the road for not allowing the company to come in the area. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the demands that community wants the company to comply because there are 36 steps of EIA that the company will have to follow and do it step by step.
Currently, some of the people who agreed with the project want to come and support the Save Ban Haeng, but the group members don’t accept them yet because this is something to give them a lesson. They may discuss among the group members and accept new members later, so now they are in between of agreed and disagreed people.
The roles of the youth and children in the village are to listen to the story of the case and documented as a recorded history for them in the future. For the young generation to remember that their community is struggling due to the development project which they disagreed with. The memory of the community is also very important for the future to learn about how they are working in against the mining project.
Local youths or students had been trekking into the forest to learn from the forest while this local movement and struggles have never been teaching in School.