Local villagers from the Chana district in the southern province of Songkhla marched to the Government House yesterday afternoon, December 13th, from the UN headquarters where they had been protest-camping since last week.
The villagers are protesting an industrial park project scheduled for roughly 20,000 rai of land in Chana, Songkhla, that the government says will turn the province into a “Prototype City of Advanced Futuristic Industries”. This includes a deep-water seaport. Protesters, who are mostly fishermen, say the project will hurt their livelihoods and give way to “big business and big industry” while hurting the local way of life. The government, meanwhile, says it will actually allow for more job opportunities in the area.
The project has yet to officially begin, however, some of the protesters have claimed to be threatened to leave their ancestral land by agents of the project who are trying to clear the land for future development.
Members of the ‘Chana Rakthin’ network and their allies began marching at around 2:53 PM. However, heavy crowd control forces were stationed and reportedly blocked their marching routes to the House. Two detention trucks and more than 13 police vans were also seen deployed in front of the Education Ministry, according to iLaw reports.
The group gathered for an overnight protest in front of the UN Headquarters in Bangkok earlier this year to seek the government’s action against an industrial estate development project in their hometown after, according to them, the authorities promised to revoke all cabinet resolutions involving the project in December last year.
According to the protester’s statements, no action had been taken from the government’s one-year promise to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The protesters are not entirely against the project but wanted a detailed SEA to be completed and for protesters’ opinions and thoughts to be heard. A SEA would allow a much more comprehensive look at the project, although would be time-consuming, but despite promises to conduct one, it has still not been held. Analysts and academics have recently suggested nearly unanimously to the government to conduct the SEA as a way to diffuse the situation versus attempting to “steamroll” forward with the project and seaport.
The protesters, last staged a major protest last Monday, December 6th, when the crowd control police arrested 36 group members in the middle of the night. The government claimed the arrest was not due to trying to stop the freedom of speech of the protesters but due to a violation of Covid-19 measures, prohibiting rallies under the current emergency decree. Protesters and activists disagreed, claiming the arrests and prior breakups of their protests were a means of intimidation of the villagers, many of whom are elderly and women. Yesterday’s protest was the second major protest this month.
As of 3:00 PM. yesterday, the protesters first faced crowd control police blockage at the Makkhawan bridge. Protest representatives then negotiated with the officials before Thai officials told the protesters to march down Krung Kasem Road instead to avoid police blockades and confrontation.
The protesters faced heavy barricades and police blockage once they were reaching the Chamai Maruchet bridge which leads to the Government House at around 4:30 PM.
A small clash occurred at the Chamai Maruchet bridge shortly after protesters tried to push through the police barrier to their destination. Police then pushed them back with the shields while the protesters were reportedly seen throwing plastic bottles at the force, according to iLaw.
The protesters then decided to settle down in front of a police barrier which was a few meters away from the Government House as of 5:00 PM, which is where they stayed overnight.
One of the protest representatives, Somboon Khamhang, read the group’s statement demanding the government to keep its promise and take serious actions against the halt of the Chana industrial zone project until a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is completed.
The group insisted to stay and protest at the Chamai Maruchet bridge until the resolutions of the project have been issued. The Thai Prime Minister, meanwhile, has reportedly stated that the industrial project will continue, as “contracts have already been signed” with various companies and agencies and that breaking the contracts would be legally impossible.
Photo Courtesy: iLaw
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