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PTT and opponents set for confronta

(From October 7, 1997 Bangkok Post)


PTT and opponents set for confrontation over pipeline

Authority wants to avoid paying out fine

Kanittha Inchukul Wasant Techawongtham

Neither the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) nor the opponents of
its gas pipeline project in Kanchanaburi are willing to step back from
their hardline positions, prompting fears that another head-on
confrontation was inevitable.

"The villagers are ready to lay down their bodies to stop the project,"
warned Warin Thiemcharas, an environmental lawyer with the Law Society of
Thailand which is assisting local villagers in lawsuits they may file
against the PTT.

PTT governor Pala Sookawesh met the opponents face-to-face for the first
time on Saturday at a panel discussion organised by the Thai Society of
Environmental Journalists. The journalist group brought the two sides
together in an attempt to keep the dialogue going to sort out differences
that many fear would lead to violent confrontation.

Opposition to the project surfaced over a year and a half ago when local
grassroots and conservation groups learned that the pipeline would pass
through lush forests, threatening its ecology and endangering wildlife.

The groups accused the PTT of not being honest in revealing information
about the danger of the pipeline and the environmental damage it would
cause, and of using intimidation tactics to get its way.

Many villagers, whose homes on the path of the pipeline were damaged by
construction, complained they were intimidated by construction workers.

The opponents have demanded that the PTT suspend construction to
facilitate talks between the two sides to resolve differences.

Mr Pala rejected the demand, saying the construction could not be stopped
now because of the short time left until the delivery date. If Thailand
fails to take delivery of the gas by June next year, the PTT will have to
pay a fine estimated at 40 million baht a day to the Burmese government.

The 260-km pipeline which begins at Ban I-tong in Thong Pha Phum district
at the Thai-Burmese border is scheduled to deliver gas from Yadana and
Yetagun fields in the Burmese waters to a power plant operated by the
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) in Ratchaburi on July
1 next year.

However, Mr Pala assured the opponents that the PTT would make certain
that damage to the environment was kept to a minimum and that all
environmental impact mitigation measures were carried out after the
project was completed.

He also said the PTT would establish a fund to restore, conserve and
reforest tens of thousand rai of forest land. Local communities and
conservation groups would be invited to oversee the conservation of the
forests with money from the fund.

But the opponents refused to be appeased.

Suraphol Duangkhae, deputy secretary general of Wildlife Fund Thailand,
noted that there were many flaws in the project's environmental impact

These must be rectified, he said but pointed out that the available time
left before the gas delivery date was insufficient to allow for fruitful
discussion on the problem.

Local environmental activist Boonsong Chansongrassami demanded that the
PTT stop its alleged intimidation campaign and come clean with details of
its contracts with the Burmese government and contractors.

"We want all the contractual details to prove whether the information PTT
has been giving us is true, especially the fine to be paid to the Burmese
government if it does not finish the project on time," he said.

Lawyer Warin said the PTT's refusal to bend left the opponents no choice
but to take their case to court. He accused the PTT of violating the
spirit, if not the letter, of the 1992 Environment Act and other laws
requiring it to reveal project information, promote public participation
and obtain local people's consent in launching its project.

He was, however, more afraid of the local people's rising resentment
toward the PTT which they believe has consistently refused to heed their
concerns. He said local people felt they were being manipulated and they
were ready to confront the PTT if it insisted on proceeding with the

Both sides were noncommittal to a suggestion that a working group chaired
a neutral person acceptable to both sides be established to mediate the
disputes and work out solutions to the problems.