Troops guard mine dispute villages

About 120 soldiers were deployed in Loei’s Wang Saphung district yesterday to guard six villages where tensions between villagers and the local Tungkum Co gold mining operation have been rising.

“We will be here until the villages are in peace and order, until we know the truth [of the conflict] and we’re sure that villagers are safe,” said Lt Col Worawut Samran, chief of the 1st Infantry Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment.

“Let’s say we’ll be here indefinitely until all problems are solved,” he said.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ordered the 8th Infantry Regiment to deploy forces in the area to prevent further violence.

The soldiers deployed in the villages and around the gold mine were joined by security volunteers and officials from Wang Saphung tambon administrative organisation as well as police from Wang Saphung station.

On the night of May 15, 300 unidentified armed men captured and beat up villagers guarding a concrete barrier they built to block access to the mine over concerns about its environmental and health impacts. The barrier was then destroyed to make way for lorries to load copper ore from the mine. More than 40 villagers were injured. 

The villagers believe the attack involved a senior army officer who worked for Loei provincial administration organisation’s Thanawut Timsuwan, whom the villagers say is an ore purchaser.

But Mr Thanawat denied involvement, saying that he has nothing to do with the mining business.

According to Lt Col Worawut, the rising tensions are fuelled by a third party.

He did not give details but he is thought to be referring to ore purchasers and NGOs.

“We are urging [the third party] to stop their activities. If there were only villagers and the mine operator, the problem would have been solved,” he said.

Last week, activists from Khon Kaen province's Dao Din group were warned by soldiers to halt campaigning against the gold mine since they would stir conflict.

Lt Col Worawut said the army also summoned two senior officers suspected of involvement in the attack.

Some villagers told the Bangkok Post they were confused by the presence of the soldiers and other officials since there was no explanation for the operation.

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