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Villagers from Chana District, Songkhla, have returned home after a week of protest against the Chana industrial estate project, following a cabinet resolution issued on Tuesday (14 December).

Chana villagers marched to Government House on Monday (13 December) (Phot by Ginger Cat)

The villagers came to Bangkok on 6 December intending to occupy the area in front of Government House to demand updates on the promises made in 2019 that the government would reconsider the 16,700-rai Chana industrial estate project, after 18-year-old activist Khairiyah Ramanyah has been sitting in front of the Government House every day for a week to remind the government of its promise. 

They were arrested during the night of 6 December at their camp and charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. They were held at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau overnight before being released on 7 December without bail but with the condition that they must not stage the same kind of activity again.

During the police operation, crowd control police blocked reporters from filming as the villagers were taken away in a detention truck. Reporters were threatened with arrest while lights were shone directly at the cameras to prevent photographing. Volunteer medics were also prevented from assisting the villagers, many of whom are older women.

After their release, the villagers returned to Government House and read out a declaration calling for the government to keep the promise it made during their last protest in December 2020, when they demanded that the industrial zone project be cancelled and for a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be conducted to establish quality technical data for decisions about further development projects in the south.

They then moved from Government House to the UN headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and occupied the footpath in front of the building. They stayed in front of the UN headquarters until Monday (13 December), when they marched to Government House.

Their march was met with a police blockade, and they had to change their route after crowd control police blocked off Makkhawan Rangsan bridge, which leads to Government House. They then occupied Chamai Maruchet bridge next to Government House. They called on the government to keep its promise for the Chana industrial zone project to be suspended until an SEA is conducted and said that they would not leave until a cabinet resolution is issued.

They were also joined by other community networks whose livelihood is being affected by development projects and government policy, including members of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community; the Federation of Thai Fisherfolk Association; the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move); and community members from Na Bon District, Nakhon Si Thammarat, who were protesting against a biomass power plant planned for their district.

Activist Khairiyah Rahmanyah, 18, confronting police officers blocking the route to Government House (Photo by Ginger Cat)

On Tuesday (14 December), a cabinet resolution was issued stating that an SEA is to be conducted, while any progress in the Chana industrial zone project must cease. The National Economic and Social Development Council will lead the SEA process, the result of which will be evaluated by Thaksin University and Prince of Songkla University.

After the resolution was issued, the villagers left Government House this morning (15 December) to return home.

The Chana industrial project was approved by a resolution at the last cabinet meeting of the junta government which was installed after the coup in 2014 and aims to construct an 18-billion-baht industrial estate on 16,700 rai of land, which covers 3 subdistricts with 1500 residents. It is seen as controversial due to questions about the public hearing process, as those who opposed the project were barred from attending hearings.

In December 2020, the Chana villagers protested at Government House, demanding that the project be cancelled and for a proper SEA to be conducted.

At that time, Thammanat Prompao, the then Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, announced that a committee would be formed consisting of both those in favour and those against the project. Membership of the committee would be considered later and fieldwork carried out at the beginning of 2021.

On Tuesday (7 December 2021), Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha responded the media about the Chana protest, saying that what Thammanat had proposed to the villagers was not agreed upon by either the cabinet or himself.

Gen Prayut was the one who fired Thammanat in September 2021 during the no-confidence motion after rumours of Thammanat’s attempt to topple him from within the ruling Palang Pracharat Party.

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