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Radio spot inflames opponents of pi

(From October 7, 1997 Bangkok Post)


Radio spot inflames opponents of pipeline

Local leader tells PTT don't play dirty

Chakrit Ridmontri

Calling critics of the Petroleum Authority of Thailand's (PTT) gas
pipeline project "foolish" and "stupid" may not be the best way to pacify
the opposition, a leader of a local conservation group warned PTT over
the weekend.

Some members of the local media in Kanchanaburi have apparently tried to
appease PTT by producing a radio spot publicising merits of the pipeline
and calling its opponents aye haew who foolishly believe the natural gas
in the pipeline was susceptible to fire.

"Aye haew, aye ngo [foolish and stupid] how could you believe the gas to
be delivered from Burma through the PTT's pipeline would catch fire,"
Boonsong Chansongrassami, a leader of Kanchanaburi Conservation Group,
quoted the spot as saying.

The spot has incensed opponents of the pipeline.

At a panel discussion titled "The Thai-Burmese Gas Pipeline: Origin and
Destination" organised over the weekend by the Thai Society of
Environmental Journalists, a fuming Mr Boonsong told PTT governor Pala

"How can you resort to such dirty tactics? You are fuelling hatred among
the local people, between supporters and opponents of the project."

The radio spot was directed by a provincial committee set up on
suggestions of the National Environment Board (NEB) to monitor
environmental impact and encourage local people to help monitor the

But the committee, comprising mostly supporters of the pipeline, turned
out to be a tool of the PTT, helping it defend the 260-km pipeline which
will start receiving gas from Burma's Yadana and Yetagun fields on July 1
next year.

Pipeline opponents on the committee pulled out last May under protest.

About 137 km of the pipeline has been laid. The remaining, which will
pass through lush forests in Thong Pha Phum district, would be laid at
the end of the rainy season.

Some villagers who had been paid compensation for their land through
which the pipeline would pass later changed their mind after learning
that gas in the pipeline could explode accidentally or through acts of
sabotage by Burmese minority groups.

The PTT has tried to allay their fears by explaining that natural gas,
being lighter than air, would disperse in case of leaks and the high
pressure in the pipeline would further help push the leaked gas into the
higher reaches of the atmosphere without posing any risk to residents in
the vicinity. It was also lighter than LNG, used for cooking, which
spreads horizontally on leaking and thus can ignite easily.

Mr Boonsong accused the PTT of paying journalists to write in support of
the pipeline and the result was that public opinion has become highly
polarised because there was no way to accurately appraise their reports.

"You [the PTT] must tell the truth and we can join hands to solve the
problems," he said.

Warin Thiemcharas of the Law Society of Thailand said violence would be
inevitable if the PTT insisted on proceeding with the project.

"I don't want to see violence. Local people are extremely depressed by
the PTT's divide-and-rule tactics," he said.

PTT governor Pala denied any knowledge of a conscious attempt to incite
the public and promised to investigate the matter.

"I will get rid of any person who tries to sow disunity," he said, but
refused to suspend the project.

"We cannot stop now and mob rule won't force our hands," he said.