A public hearing on the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand's proposed coal-fired power plant in Songkhla's Thepha district opened amid tight security on Monday, with the project's opponents prevented from entering.
Coils of barbed wire were stretched around the office of Pak Bang tambon administration organisation, the venue for the hearing, to prevent villagers who oppose the project from getting inside.
About 1,500 soldiers and police were deployed around the TAO office. Another 500 defence volunteers from various villages were deployed inside the TAO compound.
The Pattani - Hat Yai road in front of the TAO office was partially blocked. Only one lane was open to traffic. An armoured car was seen moving back and forth on the road.
The two-day public hearing began at 8am on Monday. Only 60 attendees who had registered in advance were allowed to speak, and were limited to five minutes each. Most of them voiced support for the project.
Outside the TAO compound, about 50 villagers rallied, holding flags and banners opposing the project.
Songkhla governor Thamrong Charoenkul, who chaired the hearing, said after Egat announced its plan to build the coal-fired power plant in Thepha, the district had been mentioned across the country. The project had become the pride of Thepha district.
"The people of Thepha, as tax payers, will soon have a power plant and a port for coal delivery in their locality," said the governor.
He said the hearing was for the people to seek explanations about the project from Egat's representatives and ask them how to solve problems which they thought would arise.
Mr Thamrong said the authorities had never issued an order barring the project's opponents from taking part in the public hearing.
Outside, the protesting villagers issued a statement demanding the governor not chair the public hearing, to ensure transparency.
They demanded the governor explain why an order he issued under the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act accused the project's opponents of instigating unrest.
A second hearing on the contruction of a port for coal delivery is scheduled at the same venue on Tuesday.