EARTH Thailand

Abhisit agrees to talks with protesters

Bangkok Post 11 September 2009

Villagers want industry permits put on hold
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says he is willing to hold talks with villagers affected by pollution and now protesting in front of Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong province.

About 2,000 villagers yesterday rallied for a second day to demand the Industry Ministry suspend permits for new investment projects, including petrochemical plants, until the pollution reduction plan for the pollution control zones is completed and takes effect.

Mr Abhisit said he had asked Democrat MPs for Rayong to coordinate with protest leaders to discuss problems at the Map Ta Phut industrial estate.

He said the government only allowed investment projects which were not harmful to the environment and people's health as stated in the constitution's Article 67.

Article 67 stipulates that companies planning projects likely to affect the environment and people's health must hold public hearings to gauge local opinion before they could proceed.

The article requires the government to arrange for an independent environmental agency to give advice on implementation of projects that could be harmful to people's health and the environment.

Mr Abhisit said he was willing to invite leading protesters for talks and let them see details of projects that were approved. Not all industrial projects harmed the environment as their investments were different, he said.

A group of residents in Rayong and nearby areas has staged a rally since Wednesday against industrial projects planned for development in the Map Ta Phut area.

More villagers and environmental activists yesterday joined the protest.

About 200 protesters, some carrying coffins and wreaths, yesterday marched to the office of the Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Muang district of Rayong to submit a three-point demand to Peerawat Rungruangsri, director of the industrial estate.

They demanded the planned construction of new industrial factories be reviewed, all industrial projects strictly follow Article 67 and the industrial estate unmask business operators who allegedly paid local residents not to join the group's rally.

Sutthi Atchasai, coordinator for the Eastern People's Network and a protest leader, said his group was waiting for a response from the prime minister.

If no measures were undertaken by the government to address the problems, the group would file a complaint against the prime minister, the industry minister and other ministers over the endorsement of new industrial projects in the area.

Mr Sutthi said he wanted the prime minister to solve problems arising from a resolution made by a joint public and private panel, chaired by Mr Abhisit. The panel resolved to issue permits for 55 investment projects which have passed the environmental impact assessment (EIA) stage.

Those projects had a total investment value of 300 billion baht.

He said the issuing of permits to those projects had not abided by Article 67 of the charter.

Niran Pitakwatchara, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission's subcommittee on people's rights, yesterday warned the prime minister the issuance of permits to new factories in Map Ta Phut industrial estate would violate the constitution as it was not in line with Article 67.