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Ministry for Rasi Salai Dam hearing

The Nation May 24, 2000

THE Science Ministry has challenged protesters against the Rasi Salai Dam to hold a public hearing to judge whether or not the dam's gates should be opened.

Responding to a sit-in protest by villagers from Si Sa Ket, which has lasted almost a week, deputy Science Minister Pornthep Tejapaibul said that the ministry would abide by the decision of the hearing if it took place.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the site of the dam, just days after 1,000 people protested against the Pak Mool Dam in Ubon Ratchathani province on May 15. Both groups shared one common demand, that the government open the gates of the dams and let the rivers run free. This, the protesters argue, would be a step towards restoring the rivers' ecology. The villagers say the Rasi Salai Dam has severely damaged the local ecology, especially fish stocks and diversity along the river.

As the authority behind the project, the Science Ministry gave its first response to the Rasi Salai protesters yesterday.

Pornthep suggested that the protesters end their conflict and agree to the compromise by organising a public hearing which would have the final say on whether or not the waterway should be opened.

"I want them to accept this proposal. Ideally, the hearing committee would be led by neutrals acceptable to both the ministry and the protesters. [The villagers] could nominate someone to chair the committee, but we would have to approve," Pornthep said. "I sent officials to put the proposal to the protesters, but they seem to disagree with it. They would prefer to negotiate with someone like the Prime Minister or Science Minister. In fact I am authorised to discuss this issue with them.".

An environmental activist, however, said that the deputy Science Minister had little credibility with the villagers as he had failed to keep promises to villagers before, as in the case of the Ongkharak nuclear-research reactor project.

"He will be sent to try and squash the protest by suggesting time-consuming alternatives. It's a tactic to buy time, a simple game to avoid getting to the core of the issue," the activist added.

When asked whether or not the villagers had agreed to his suggestion and whether the ministry would continue to pay compensation to villagers affected by the dam project, the deputy minister said he was not certain as to the best route to take.


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