Tight security for power plant meet
A public hearing on a coal-fired power plant project in Songkhla will today proceed under tight security amid worries over a massive rally by protesters.
Police are sending 400 officers to ensure order at the two-day hearing, which starts today, after Songkhla governor Thamrong Charoenkul earlier ordered a ban on gatherings at Pak Bang Tambon Administration Organisation in Thepha district, the hearing venue.
He warned violators they could be fined up to 6,000 baht or jailed for three months under the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act.
- EDITORIAL: Government agrees to listen
Songkhla police chief Amphon Buaamphon is still optimistic about the hearing, hoping villagers who disagree with the plant will only voice their opinions.
But if they incite confusion and disorder, police need to enforce the law, Pol Maj Gen Amphon said yesterday. "Security orders we implement will depend mainly on the Songkhla governor's judgement," he said, adding police, who will be reinforced by soldiers, are ready to ensure safety for all participants.
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) wants to build a new coal-fired power plant in Thepha district, which opponents say could harm the environment.
The protesters, who are asking Mr Thamrong to revoke his order and not to preside over the hearing, are considering joining the event today.
However, they said their precise moves will depend on Mr Thamrong's response.
The group yesterday attempted to submit a petition to the governor against the hearing, but in the end met Mr Thamrong's representative at Songkhla Provincial Hall.
The protesters were later told to complain to the state-run Damrongtham complaint centre.
The petition calls on Mr Thamrong not to chair the hearing, which has been called to gauge villagers' opinions on the plant and related plans for a seaport to transport coal.
"The governor has a duty to ensure unity, reduce conflict and allow expressions of different opinions," says the petition.
"[The] order banning gatherings runs contrary to that idea," it said.
But Mr Thamrong said the order was needed because Thepha is one of four districts in the province prone to attacks launched by southern insurgents.
The other at-risk areas are Chana, Na Thawi and Saba Yoi districts.
"I will join the hearing today as an area supervisor to ensure safety for everybody," he said, insisting strict security measures must be enforced to prevent ill-intentioned people from instigating violence.
However, the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Forward Command has no policy to keep a watch on villagers who oppose the project, said Fourth army chief Fourth Lt Gen Prakan Chonlayuth.
Pol Kongsue, an assistant governor for Egat, said the hearing will be held in a fair manner, allowing both sides to air their views. However, they are not allowed to use placards and Powerpoint during their talks, he said.