In the Northeastern Province of Loei is the community environmental group of Khon Rak Ban Kerd (Villagers Who Love Their Home). This idyllic corner of rural Thailand at first glance looks like any other Thai village with its two-storey wooden houses and fields full of rice. But if you look a bit closer you’ll see the large dirt cavities drilled out of the hilltops and signs in front of most houses read “Close the Mine”.
This group of veteran environmental defenders from a collection of 6 villages has been fighting against a gold mine operated by Tungkum Company Limited since 2007. The villagers allege that the malpractice and poor safety standards of the company during their procurement of gold, has poisoned their land with such chemicals as arsenic and cyanide.
Whilst no one has been killed, threats and violence has badly affected the community. On the night of May 15th 2014, a group of around 300 masked men descended on the village to destroy roadblocks the villagers had built to stop access to the gold mine.
As the villagers rushed out to confront the gang who were armed with knives, sticks and guns. The men were beaten and tied up leaving the women to fight face to face with these masked men many being injured in the process. No official or police came to assist the community and the ordeal only stopped at around 5am the following morning once all the trucks had managed to leave the mine loaded with their gold ore.
Fortunately, that night has never been repeated but the company applies pressure on the villagers through lawsuits to financially and physically exhaust the community. The company has brought civil and criminal charges against 33members of the community, including that of a 15-year-old school girl, engaged in protest activities totalling millions of dollars.
For more than a decade this small but strong and resilient community environmental group continues to fight against the environmental impact inflicted on their land and stand-up for their rights against a much wealthier and powerful opponent.
Commissioned by Fortify Rights