2 with army links guilty of attacking Loei gold mine protest

2 with army links guilty of attacking Loei gold mine protest

A 2014 mobile phone photo of the melee at the Tungkum Ltd gold mine in Loei posted then to Facebook. (Loei Mining Town Facebook page)
A 2014 mobile phone photo of the melee at the Tungkum Ltd gold mine in Loei posted then to Facebook. (Loei Mining Town Facebook page)

A court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced to jail two military men for orchestrating an attack on villagers who were blockading a gold mine, a lawyer said, a rare ruling in favour of such activists.

Residents of Nanonbong in Loei province have waged a decade-long struggle against the mine, operated by the Tungkum Ltd, which they accuse of polluting the environment and damaging health.

The company has responded by filing at least 19 lawsuits against them, according to rights groups, including charges of criminal defamation against a 15-year old girl.

In May 2014, a week before the coup that brought the current military regime to power, Nanonbong villagers said they were mobbed by about 150 armed men while they were blocking the road to the mine.

Many of the villagers, who were protesting against the environmental damage they said the mine caused, were rounded up and some were beaten, they said. The attackers were not identified at the time while police declined to comment.

Investigators were later able to identify two men, a father and son, the former a retired army officer and the latter a serving one, as being among the attackers.

On Tuesday, a provincial court sentenced retired Lt Gen Poramet Pomnak and Lt Col Poramin Pomnak to two and three years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the attack, the community's lawyer said.

The pair also were ordered to pay compensation to some of the victims.

The ruling marked a rare departure from the impunity often granted to soldiers in a country where the military routinely intervenes in both local and national politics.

"In the verdict the judge mentioned that the two suspects hurt villagers to clear the way for transporting minerals," lawyer Sor.Rattanamanee Polkla told AFP.

The attack on the villagers, who were barricading a road that led to the mine, left at least a dozen injured.

Nadia Hardman, a legal adviser who observed the trial on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, welcomed the ruling but urged a deeper investigation into others involved in the attack.

"We are disappointed that only two people were indicted and found guilty," she told AFP.

She said more than 100 community members gathered peacefully outside the courthouse Tuesday morning and handed out flower chains to police officers.

"It was quite an extraordinary gesture," she added.

However, Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at the ICJ, told Reuters that the ruling "establishes that human rights defenders and community activists can't be attacked with impunity".

"The overwhelming trend in Thailand for community rights defenders remains that of impunity for their attackers. We hope this is the beginning of a new trend," he said.

Earlier this month the government announced it would shut down gold mining across the country, a unexpected move in a country where profit often takes precedence. The current regime has pushed through a string of controversial environmental projects.

The country also is considered one of the world's most dangerous places for environmental activists. More than 80 of them have disappeared or been murdered since the early 80s.

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