The convoy of pick-ups and trucks carrying hundreds of villagers weaved between paddy fields on its way to the eponymous provincial capital, Nong Bua Lamphu in Northeat Thailand. The participants had an appointment with the Governor of the Province and various government ministry representatives at the Provincial Hall. They were going to ensure that their collective voice would be heard.
Almost three decades ago a struggle began between the villagers who live in several communities surrounding a collection of rocky limestone outcrops and a private mining company from the city of Udon Thani in Thailand’s Northeast. The villagers fearing the environmental impacts as well as the degradation of religious and historical sites have been trying to stop it ever since.
On the 13th August the villagers began what they describe as the last big push to stop the mining by blockading the road access to the mine itself. The early years were exceedingly deadly for the community with 4 members of the environmental group being killed in 1993 and 1999. The latter killings included the acting Sub-District Chief who was also Sorn’s husband Tongmuan Khamjem. His death was particularly shocking to the community as the two men were ambushed and shot dead whilst riding a motorbike on a quiet country road.
Angered and saddened by the event, the villagers chose not to cremate his body. Instead they loaded it onto a truck and together with around 300 people drove in a convoy of 13 vehicles to the same Provincial Hall. With the coffin containing Tongmuan Khamjem next to them, they stayed for 3 days and 3 nights, sleeping outside on the ground in an attempt to pressure the government officials and police to act and arrest the perpetrators.
Little did she know that they would be repeating this very same trip almost three decades later to once again attempt to pressure the government to permanently close down the mine. This time, however, they had a backup plan and again, after falling on deaf ears they returned and blockaded the road, stopping the access to the mine itself.
On September 3rd the forestry permission permit for the mine expired putting the land back in the hands of the Ministry of Forestry and with that, the very next day, hundreds of villagers took over the mine to add additional pressure. With the actually mining permit expiring on September 24th the villagers still know anything could happen but could this small village community actually be seeing an end to 3 decades of struggle?
As one core leader called Lamduan Wongkhamchan said “We have been fighting against the quarry for almost 30 years since I was 40 years old. I want this struggle to end in my generation. I don’t want the younger generations, my children and grandchildren to have to continue this struggle.”