Thousands of Thai Villagers Protest Canadian Potash Mine

Thai villagers held a traditional rice-harvest ceremony yesterday as part of their protest against a potash mine proposed by Canadian mining company Asia Pacific Resources Ltd. (APR).

The protest comes after village leaders submitted 5,000 signatures calling on the Thai government to reject the Vancouver-based company's mining application.

The company plans to mine underneath people's houses and farms for potash, or potassium-containing ore, which is used to make fertilizer.

Experts have warned that the proposed 2,500-hectare mine will cause land subsidence, damaging property, roads and railway tracks in the vicinity. Refining the potash is also expected to deplete local water supplies and contaminate farmland and groundwater with salt.

"We held this ceremony to demonstrate the importance of our farming livelihoods and to fight this company that has come to destroy our natural resources and livelihoods," said a member of the Udon Thani Environmental Conservation Group, a coalition of over 21 villages opposing the mine. "If this project comes, the land will become salty and we won't be able to grow rice."

Mr. Panya Khamrab, one of many villagers threatened by the mine, said he has not been able to grow rice or raise cattle on his land since 1993 because of the salt left over from the company's drill test run. "If they have no measures to clean up the mess even for a small operation," said Khamrab, "they could easily create a disaster with the full-scale project."

Villagers have been protesting the project, which would be the world's third largest potash mine,since 2001 when they first learned of its potential environmental damage. The villagers have twice petitioned the Canadian ambassador to intervene but received no response.

Underground mining operations of this scale only became possible in Thailand last month with the passing of a Mineral Bill that allows companies to mine beneath private land without having to ask permission from the landowners.

According to Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, a lawyer and Director of Thailand's Project for Ecological Recovery, the legislation was pushed through to accomodate APR.

"This company is taking advantage of Thailand's weak environmental laws," said Ms. Kaiyoorawong. "APR has failed to compensate for damages caused during exploration and has yet to prepare a plan for decommissioning the mine as would be required by Canadian standards."

Under public pressure, Thailand's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment recently ordered a new environmental impact assessment for the mine as independent experts and citizens groups found the one submitted by APR last year incomplete and failed to consult local communities.

Asia-Pacific Resources is partly owned by another Vancouver-based company, Crew Development Corp., which was forced to withdraw from a mining venture in the Philippines last year due to public protests.

Financing for the US$600 million potash mine could be partly provided by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation.

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For more information, contact:

Bangkok: Ms. Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, Director, Project for Ecological Recovery, tel. (662) 691-0718-20, e-mail: terraper@comnet.ksc.net.th

Ottawa: Catherine Coumans, Research Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, tel. (613) 256-8331, e-mail: ccoumans@magma.ca

Toronto: GrĂ¡inne Ryder, Policy Director, Probe International, tel. (416) 964-9223, ext.228, e-mail: grainneryder@nextcity.com