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Mediator calls for talks over pipel

Mediator calls for talks over pipeline

Bangkok Post, December 9, 1997
Chakrit Ridmontri

PM's Office Minister Supatra Masdit has revived hopes of a new round of
talks between conservation group and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand
(PTT) over a controversial gas pipeline to be laid through lush forests in

Over the weekend Khunying Supatra visited a section of the forest through
which the pipeline will pass. She urged conservation groups to return to
the negotiation table and seriously explore with PTT the possibility of
re-routing the pipeline after being convinced that it could pose a potent
risk to the forest and wildlife.

"I can see the gas pipeline will pass through lush green forests but I can
not order the PTT to re-route the pipeline. I want representatives of the
two sides to talk and conclude whether to go ahead or re-route the pipeline
in that particular section.

But I can't guarantee the talk will lead to re-routing," she said.

Khunying Supatra was assigned by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai to mediate
after talks between conservation groups and the pipeline's builders, PTT,
had hit a dead end.

She told both sides to send experts in engineering, forest and wildlife,
and national security to thrash out the matter, and leave to them to decide
if re-routing would help, and if not why.

The 260-km-long gas pipeline will cut through 50 km of dense forests, parts
of which are protected, market out as national parks or watershed areas.

Phinan Chotirossernaee, a conservation activist, said she had handed the
names of her group's representatives to the minister. They are Prof
Thongchai Phansawat, environmental engineer from Cholalingkorn University;
Surapon Duangkhae of the Wildlife Fund Thailand; and Gen Charn Boonprasert,
army chief of staff: and herself plus two affected villagers.

Opponents wants the pipeline to be laid along the road from Thongphaphum
district to I-tong village at the Thai-Burmese border where it will connect
with the pipeline on the Burmese side.

"By re-routing the pipeline along the road, no one will lose. PTT will
receive gas as planned while we still can protect the forest," she said.

She argued that laying the pipeline through forests was as difficult as
laying it along the road. The PTT has said the road was full of sharp
curves making it difficult and costly to lay the pipeline.

PTT's publish relations director Songkiert Tansamrit, meanwhile, said so
far he knew nothing of Khunying Supatra's initiative, but affirmed he
welcomed it as it provide PTT with an opportunity to present its side of
the story.

Talk between the two sides broke down again early last month after then
industry minister Korn Dabbaransi refused to be persuade and did not give
his blessings to the project.

Mrs Phinan led more that 100 conservation activists to file a petition with
Mr Chuan last week demanding the government review the pipeline route
within few days. They threatened to lie down in the ditches prepared for
the pipeline in the forests to prevent the construction from proceeding.

The deadline passed last Sunday with no answer from the government. Instead
Khunying Supatra met the groups in Kanchanaburi and inspected the
contentious sites.