Loei, North Eastern Thailand: On 19 June a delegation of diplomats from the European Union (EU) accompanied by Protection International’s Protection Desk-Thailand traveled to Nanongbong village in Wangsaphung, to meet the community-based human rights defenders group Khon Rak Ban Koed. The Khon Rak Ban Koed Group works with communities in six villages, including Nanongbong, in North Eastern Thailand to protect the environment from the negative effects of mining and to uphold their community’s agricultural practices.
Representatives of the European Union Delegation to Thailand as well as of member states Poland and Spain began the visit by meeting with the Governor of Loei, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), and the police. Afterward, they had a long exchange with the villagers who expressed their concerns about the security situation following the 15 May attack and about their health and environmental threats posed by eight years of operation of the Phuthapfa gold mine in Loei’s Wang Saphung district. Although the gold mine was ordered to close down until the problems could be fully investigated and rectified, legal cases have been initiated by the mining company as means to retaliation for the vilalgers’ efforts to safeguard and protect their land and environment.
Villagers expressed their heartfelt appreciation to European Union and member states representatives who visited Nanongbong and discussed their case before the local authorities. They asked the EU to send observers to attend the court hearing of 29 July, in one of the cases opened against them, and to condemn the 15 May attack and security treats that followed. The community also encouraged the EU to consider the great risks they are facing and as a result issue a statement of condemnation on the situation of human rights defenders in Loei.
Before leaving the province the delegation met with Lt Col Worawut Samran, chief of the 1st Infantry Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment. At this meeting, the diplomats raised their issue of security inviting the Army to ensure recognition and protection to all parties and human rights defenders working to support the community, including students, environment activists, the National Human Rights Commission, non-governmental organisations, among others.
The visit came at a time when the Council of the EU adopted conclusions on Thailand calling on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to uphold respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.