March 25, 1999
MORE than 3,000 villagers, who have been affected by the Pak Mool Dam project in Ubon Ratchathani, have gathered at the dam site demanding compensation for a permanent loss of their occupation — freshwater fishing. Pennapa Hongthong Thongchareon Sihatham, leader of the villagers who are under the umbrella of the Assembly of the Poor, said yesterday he wanted the government to pay them because after the dam became operational in 1994, they have not been able to catch any fish from the Mool River.
He said the Chavalit government approved Bt1.8 billion in compensation for the villagers, but the Chuan government had revoked the decision. He said the Chuan government has to respect the previous Cabinet’s resolution.
Amnuay Viravan, then finance minister, agreed to pay the Bt1.8 billion to more than 3,800 families who lost their careers because the government could not provide 15 rai of land to each villager as promised by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), the dam owner. The money was to be paid via the agriculture cooperatives.
However, the Chavalit government collapsed before the money could be transferred. And when the Chuan government took charge, it claimed that the former Cabinet’s approval was illegal and revoked the decision.
”We, the poor, have given more than enough time to the government and now it’s time to call for justice. Besides ignoring the poor, the Chuan government has also embezzled our money to serve the rich,” he claimed.
Wattana Nakpradit, an adviser to the assembly, said the government should apportion some money from its many loan projects to compensate the villagers.
”They have the right to be paid, since they sacrificed themselves in the national interest,” she said.
The protest, which started on Tuesday, will continue till the government agrees to the demand, Thongchareon said.
The villagers have received moral support from other ”dam-hit” villagers and friends. About 1,000 villagers affected by the Sirindhorn Dam, Chaiyaphum’s Lamkanchu Dam and the Pongkhunpetch Dam Construction Project yesterday moved in to join in the protest.
Moreover, nine Japanese academics from the Tokyo Technology College also visited the protesting villages. Wattana said the academics, some of whom were observers during the setting up of the assembly three years ago, are now on their ”visit Thailand” schedule.
The Pak Mool Dam was constructed during 1991-1993, when the Egat and the Royal Fishery Department promised that after the dam was completed the Mool River will be as fertile as in the past and the villagers could continue with their freshwater fishing.
Meanwhile in Si Sa Ket, about 300 villagers belonging to the Assembly of Northeastern Small Scale Farmers (ANSCF) rallied at the City Hall. They were protesting against the alleged illegal activities by officials of the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) and the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) in the province.
Ronnachit Thummong, leader of the protesters, said RID officials had refused his request to see details of compensation for villagers who had been affected by the projects of the RID. He alleged corruption in the compensation process.
He threatened that he and his colleagues will move to join villagers in Nakhon Ratchasima to demand that the government solve the problems of the ANSCF.
Police chief Gen Pracha Promnok said police will facilitate the protesters if they want to move to Bangkok. But they must not block any roads or disturb other people.
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