EARTH Thailand

Chinese mine operator files police complaint after being blocked by locals

The Nation 10 May 2018 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

A CHINESE potash-mining operator has filed a complaint against some local people in Sakon Nakhon province after the company’s exploration team was blocked from entering the test site.

The fresh conflict between local citizens in the potash exploration area at Wanon Niwat district and China Mingda Potash Corporation erupted again yesterday after local people were angered by the company’s new potash exploration operations. The locals tried to stop the team from entering the exploration site.

The confrontation began yesterday morning when the locals, protesting against the potash exploration, tried to prevent China Mingda’s team from entering the area. The team, which was escorted by many police officers, was unable to enter the site to drill for new exploration as planned.

The Chinese mining company argued that its potash exploration was legal and it had already received approval to drill for potash from both the land owner and the authorities. The local people, however, said that they had been kept in the dark about the potash mine development plan. They said they were worried about the environmental impact of the operation on groundwater and the fertility of their farmland.

China Mingda manager Thanyapat Wangwongsiri said the company decided to file the complaint with the police against those who tried to oppose its potash exploration, as the company had to protect its rights.

“The company has done nothing against the law, because we already have the permission from both the land owner at the exploration site and local authorities,” Thanyapat said.

“The people have no right to block the way and prevent us from doing our duty, so we have no choice but to file a complaint with the police to protect our interests.”

The company did not specify the names of the people who had participated in the protest against the exploration operation, but it provided pictures of the protesters at the scene as evidence to the police.

Thanyapat said there was no plan to take the opponents of the potash exploration to court, but the company was open to considering filing a lawsuit to protect its reputation and interests in the future.

“I would like to assure that the company operation is just exploring and evaluating the potential to develop a potash mine in the area and there is no impact on the environment from our exploration operations,” he said.

“If anyone is affected by our operations, they can sue us in the court.”

China Mingda acquired the mineral exploration licence from the Industry Ministry for potash exploration on 12 plots of land over a total area of 116,875 rai at Wanon Niwat district since January 2015 for five years. The company’s licence will expire in January 2020. 

Nongchai Phanda, one of the local people taking part in the protest against the potash exploration, stated that the local people were informed that China Mingda would drill the fourth exploration well in the area, so the people came out in protest in order to protect their community and environment.

Nongchai said the people only blocked the vehicles of the potash exploration team from entering the site and did not fully close the entire road. As of press time, local people still guarded the way to the site.

“The local people are objecting to the exploration on the grounds that this operation may be done on first level watershed forestland, where mineral exploration is prohibited. We want the company and authorities to clear this doubt with the people first,” he said.

“We are only trying to save our hometown from environmental disaster that the potash mine will bring, because we want to preserve our livelihood as an agricultural community and protect our valuable fertile farmland.” 

He said the people were concerned about salinity intrusion as a result of extracting potash from underground salt layers, which could devastate the farmland and pollute the rivers. Moreover, he said, the local people were kept away from participating in the decision-making on this project in their hometown.