Thai military officers sentenced in gold mine conflict

Thai military officers sentenced in gold mine conflict

Plaintiffs’ lawyer says jail terms too light, and authorities should have probed more assailants, mining company

By Max Constant

BANGKOK (AA) - In a rare judgment against military men, two Thai army officers accused of assaulting villagers in relation to a gold mine conflict in northern Loei province have been sentenced to jail terms.

Sor Rattanamanee Goergoraon, a lawyer for nine villagers who were plaintiffs in the case, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that the ruling was a “good step, but not enough”.

“The penalty is only two and three years, but the maximum sentence is seven years. And the accused, as military, belonged to the official circles, so they should not have violated the law,” she said. “They acted very cruelly against the law.”

The sentencing came just three weeks after the ruling junta suspended the license of another gold mine in nearby Phichit province after local villagers accused it of polluting nearby areas with heavy metals.

On May 15, 2014, a week before the coup that brought the current junta to power, more than a hundred armed men led by Col. Poramin Pomnak and his father, retired Gen. Poramet Pomnak, attacked villagers who were blocking access to the gold mine operated by Thai-owned Tungkum Ltd in Loei.

The villagers were threatened with weapons, with some held hostage for several hours and severely beaten. Around 24 villagers were reportedly injured.

The judges concluded that the plaintiffs could clearly identify the two leaders of the group of assailants, as it was only two nights after the full moon and they had written down the registration plates of the car of the accused.

The Loei provincial court sentenced Poramin to three years in jail, and Poramet to two years, but the latest sentence was halved as the accused cooperated with investigators.

“There were around 150 assailants, but only two were sentenced,” Goergoraon said Wednesday. “The police should have investigated more people. But police officers said the others were masked and could not be identified, which is only partially true.”

She underlined that Tungkhum Ltd and the buying company should also have been investigated since “the assault was clearly linked to an attempt to get trucks carrying ore to leave the gold mine compound.”

On Tuesday, the same court dismissed a case filed by Tungkum Ltd against two village leaders accused of organizing the blockade, preventing the trucks transporting ore from leaving the mine, and hanging a banner at the entrance of Ban Na Nong Bong village saying “This village does not want the mine”.

The company had filed a claim for $1.4 million to compensate alleged damages to its operations.

Goergoraon, however, warned against considering the sentencing and the suspension of the mine in Phichit as connected and as signs of the military government’s willingness to listen to villagers affected by large developments projects.

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