By Pratch Rujivanarom
Activists stressed that the Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) and public participation process must be reformed first or there would be similar problems at the next public hearing forum.
The first public hearing for the Pak Bara seaport, scheduled to be held at Ban Pakbang School yesterday morning, was cancelled as protesters stormed the venue on Wednesday night and staged a prolonged protest.
The authorities, led by the Satun Provincial Internal Security Operations Command, tried several times to retake the venue from the protesters through negotiations and moving police into the school area.
However, their efforts to hold the public hearing ended in failure, as both sides could not reach an agreement.
There were also minor clashes between police officers and protesters, but no one was injured.
After five hours of confrontation, Commander of Satun Provincial Internal Security Operations Command Maj-General Jetthapat Sriwong approached the protesters and announced the cancellation of the public hearing at about 3pm.
“After discussions with the project owner, the Marine Department, we have agreed to cancel the public hearing forum today,” Jetthapat told the |crowd.
“However, I would like the opposition groups to answer why they want the forum to be cancelled. I do not want to see people turn against each other because of this conflict.”
Marine Department deputy-director Nat Chubchai said that even though the public hearing could not be held as planned, the next round would be held within the next 45 days.
“After consultations with the local authorities, we found we could not hold the forum today because of the tense situation, hence we have postponed the forum and it will be held within 45 days,” Nat said.
He stressed that it was important to hold the forum to enable the public to have a good understanding of the project.
Dealing with similar problems
“After today we will have to report to the upper chain of command and to the prime minister. We will have to discuss how we can move further with this project or there will be similar problems again,” he said.
On the protesters’ side, one of the key leaders, Somboon Khamhang, said that the people were happy with the outcome of their struggle, but it was not the end. Unless there were reforms in the EHIA and public participation, the people will come out again to protest against the project, he said.
“They [the authorities] have still not contacted and invited us for discussions about our demands on the EHIA and public participation. We are ready to talk to them if they are interested,” Somboon said.