Despite death threats, anti-mining group vows to reclaim mine in Nong Bua Lamphu

KHON KAEN – A group of locals is planning to escalate their longstanding opposition to a limestone mine in Nong Bua Lamphu’s Suwannakhuha District on Friday amid death threats against one of its advisors.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, a prominent environmental activist, has been receiving several messages with death threats in the past month. It was implied that his assination was imminent if he did not stop the group’s protest. Lertsak said he has been followed and surveilled by unidentified men carrying weapons and has received verbal warnings that he would be shot.

Angkana Neelapaijit, a former national human rights commissioner, told The Isaan Record via phone that she was alarmed by the threats against Lertsak who been working as a human rights defender for many years. She called for a thorough investigation of the incident and punishment for the perpetrators.

The threats come after the anti-mining group blocked the entrance to the quarry in mid-August and occupied parts of the mine on September 4. The activists plan to reclaim the remaining area on Friday, one day after the company’s mining concession is to expire.

Protesters of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Forest Conservation group occupied parts of the limestone mine on September 4. They declared the area a community forest one day after the company’s forest utilization permit expired.

Local communities have opposed the mine for more than 26 years. It is estimated that about 4,000 people in six villages in Dong Mafai subdistrict have been impacted by noise pollution and damage to buildings due to debris caused by explosions at the mine.

Operated by a private company from Udon Thani, the mine occupies the lion’s share of a nearby community forest and has affected locals’ access to food sources in the forest.

In the 1990s, four members of the group were killed but no one has been held responsible for the crimes.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, 49, a prominent environmental and human rights activist, has been advising community-based activists groups across the country for years.

According to the non-governmental organization, Protection International, Thailand has seen more than 70 cases of killings and enforced disappearances of local human rights defenders over the past five decades.

Most of the perpetrators have never been brought to justice and investigations into these crimes by the authorities have seen little or no progress.

As the news of the threats against Lertsak became known today, the hashtag #SaveLertsak was shared on Twitter.

This story was updated with a quote from Angkana Neelapaijit on September 24.