Asian Development Bank

Groups tell ADB to halt loans to Thailand

The Nation
May 2, 2000

CHIANG MAI – People’s organisations have officially declared their opposition to the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s loans, holding a press conference here yesterday to demand the bank halt its lending to Thailand and withdraw its conditional loan projects.

The groups also confirmed they would stage protests during the bank’s annual meeting
here this week as well as organise their own forum to assess the effects of the ADB
loan on the poor majority, especially farmers.

Watcharin Ubprajong, vice president of the Northern Farmers’ Alliance, said the 34
people’s organisations would submit four main demands to the ADB and pressure the
bank to hold a special meeting with them.

The demands include a stop to ADB loans to Thailand, withdrawal of the controversial
Agriculture Structure Adjustment project and the Social Structure Adjustment Project,
which are subject to loan conditions, and the loan for a central wastewater treatment
project in Samut Prakan’s Klong Dan area.

“We don’t mean to make the nation lose face by protesting while the international
financial institution holds its meeting, but we simply don’t want to be in debt,” Banrung
Khayotha, an adviser to the Assembly of the Poor, said at the press conference.

“The effect of the loans and their conditions will be to make the poor poorer, and it
compels us to protest. We have no other choice to make the bank and the government
listen to our voice,” Watcharin added.

Somchai Sirichai, an adviser to the Northern Farmers’ Network, said that several
months of discussion among the people’s organisations had pinpointed seven loan
conditions that would put a severe burden on Thai people, especially the poor.

These include the charging of farmers for use of irrigation water, free access to land
ownership for foreign investors, permission for multinational corporations to use forest
areas for tourism and forestry, new policies arising from the loan conditions that would
cause public hardship, and the privatisation of all public hospitals, public universities
and highgrade state enterprises.

The number of protesters was not disclosed, but Somchai said the initial agreement
among the organisations was to gather as many as possible. He also claimed a number
of village headmen and community leaders in Chiang Mai and nearby provinces had
been ordered by the government to prevent villagers from joining the protests.

“It is ridiculous,” Somchai said. “These people want to express their opinion of the
policies which will directly affect their lives, but the government stops them instead of
listening to them.”

“The government had tried for several weeks to paint a picture of violent protests in the
public mind.” Bamrung said. “The government knows well that it need not have any
worry about violence, but it insisted on sending a three to four thousandstrong force
here. I don’t understand what it fears. Blocking the roads? I think we know well
enough that it is the police who block the roads while the protesters walk along the
road without stopping traffic,” he added.

Numbers of activists, workers of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and villagers
affected by the ADBsponsored projects have begun arriving in Chiang Mai.

Some foreign activists like the NGOs Forum on the ADB are also in the city to prepare
for the ADB’s annual meeting from Saturday to Monday. Apart from farmers, other
groups expected to stage protests during the meeting include representatives of Aids
patients, students and labour.

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