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05BANGKOK4220 THAILAND: UPDATE ON CONTROVERSIAL PAK MUN DAM

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“35540”,”6/29/2005 5:31″,”05BANGKOK4220″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,””,”This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 004220

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: SENV, PGOV, SOCI, EFIS, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: UPDATE ON CONTROVERSIAL PAK MUN DAM

1. (SBU) Summary: On June 15, Poloffs visited Ubon

Ratchathani province, where the controversial Pak Mun Dam is

located. Representatives of an NGO alleged that the Pak Mun

Dam has disrupted local fishing and farming communities,

without producing anticipated levels of electricity and

water. They have called for the Royal Thai Government (RTG)

to keep the dam gates open all year round so that their

communities can return \”almost to normal.\” At Pak Mun Dam

itself, however, a small group of demonstrators was asking

that the dam gates be closed most of the year so they could

grow plants and farm fish. Gates are currently scheduled to

be opened four months per year, during the rainy season.

Assembly of the Poor (AOP) representatives concerned with the

dam alleged they are victims of government harassment and

intimidation, and that fourteen of their members have been

charged with \”treason\” for their peaceful protest activities.

A reporter from the pro-government XXXXXXXX newspaper

expressed little sympathy for the group, alleging they had

threatened her in the past. End Summary.

PAK MUN OVERVIEW

2. (U) First approved by the Thai Cabinet in 1989, the Pak

Mun Dam has been a source of controversy since its inception.

Initial concerns focused on the plight of local farmers and

fishermen whose lands and livelihoods would be threatened by

the construction of the dam. The aggrieved villagers founded

The Assembly of the Poor (AOP) in 1995. In the name of

national development, the dam was built anyway, (with

financial support from the World Bank) and was completed in

1994. Since then, a series of ecological setbacks, including

the disappearance of dozens of fish species from waters

around the dam, and the failure of the dam to realize many of

its production targets have led many to question whether or

not the project had been worth all the trouble. The

Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) continues

to vociferously defend the project, and is also involved in

numerous other \”mega-projects\” throughout Thailand, including

other dams.

ASSEMBLY OF THE POOR

3. (U) On June 15, 2005 Poloffs met with three

representatives of AOP, who complained that the Pak Mun dam

had destroyed their traditional way of life, and caused the

social and economic breakdown of their local communities.

Although the government promised monetary compensation, AOP

complained they had to \”fight to get it\”. Each affected

family was allotted a total of 90,000 baht (about $US 2250)

over a period of three years, with 30,000 baht (about $US

750) going directly to the family and 60,000 baht (about $US

1500) going to each family,s village cooperative. AOP

asserts the affected families were also promised plots of

land, but only a few families ever received them.

4. (U) AOP members vehemently denied RTG allegations that

overfishing by local villagers was to blame for the sudden

disappearance of the fish population. They pointed out that

the fish population only began decreasing once the dam was

built. They noted that efforts by the Department of Fisheries

to reintroduce fish into parts of the river from which they

had disappeared were unsuccessful.

5. (U) Poloffs observed a $1 million \”fish ladder\”, which

EGAT and the World Bank built after realizing the dam was

impeding the natural migration of the fish. Villagers

complained that the \”ladder\”, which is supposed to aid fish

in passing over the dam, has been entirely unsuccessful.

(Note: A 2000 report by the World Commission on Dams reported

that the fish ladder was too steep for most local species to

negotiate. End Note.)

OPEN VS. CLOSED GATES

6. (U) With the dam already built, the main bone of

contention now is to determine how many months per year to

keep the dam\’s eight sluice gates open. AOP is fighting for

the gates to remain open year-round, rendering the dam

essentially useless. By keeping the gates open all year

round, AOP argues that local communities could return \”almost

to normal.\” (Note: A 2001 Ubon Ratchathani University study

concurred; See below. End Note.)

7. (U) At Pak Mun Dam, Poloffs encountered a rival group of

about thirty people, mostly women and children, who said they

had camped out at the dam for several weeks to protest the

fact that the gates were currently open. This group

represented fishermen and farmers who wanted the gates to be

closed most of the year, so that they could use the higher

water levels around the dam for fish farming, and to grow

plants. Poloffs are unaware of exactly how much support this

group enjoys. Pak Mun gates are currently open on a loosely

regulated 4-month per year timetable, scheduled during the

annual rainy season.

BROKEN PROMISES

8. (U) AOP representatives told Poloffs that in 2001, the RTG

allowed a team from Ubon Ratchathani University (URU) to

conduct a one-year study on the economic and environmental

costs and benefits of the dam. AOP asserts that the RTG

agreed to abide by the team,s recommendations. The URU study

found that the dam,s ability to generate electricity and

supply water for irrigation was lower than originally

projected, and grossly insufficient to justify the negative

impact on fisheries, the river environment and the local

community. The study also concluded that much of the

ecological damage could be undone by keeping the gates of the

dam open, recommending that this be done for a period of five

years. Instead of abiding by the committee,s recommendation,

the RTG asked the National Statistics Office to conduct its

own study (over a period of three days), which recommended

that the dam gates be opened for about four months per year.

CHARGES OF TREASON AND INTIMIDATION

9. (SBU) XXXXXXXXX, a member of AOP, told

Poloffs that several years before, she had applied for a

passport to attend a meeting overseas. To her surprise,

authorities told her they could not issue a passport because

there was a warrant out for her arrest. She went to her local

police precinct, where she learned that she had been charged

with \”treason\” several months before. Although never jailed,

she and thirteen other AOP members are \”out on bail\”, and

have been told by the police that they risk being taken to

task for their \”crimes\” if they continued with their

anti-government activities.

10. (SBU) In addition to the charges of treason, AOP said

their work had also been hampered by the use of the local and

national media to discredit their organization and its

activities. They also asserted that local leaders, including

village headmen, have tried to intimidate AOP members and

suppress the organization,s anti-dam activities. XXXXX

XXXXXX felt these local officials were presumably taking

orders from above.

11. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX of Ubon Ratchatani University

told Poloffs that organizations like AOP had become much

weaker under the Thaksin administration because of increased

government pressure. XXXX pointed out that Thailand,s

Northeastern Isan region had traditionally been a hotbed of

political activism. However, most of the local population was

content with their improved quality of life under the Thaksin

administration, leading most people to shrug off the fact

that civil liberties have been decreased.

REPORTER REFUTES AOP ASSESSMENT

13. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXX a newspaper reporter for the

pro-government daily XXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXX, also acknowledged that AOP had slowed

down its activities in recent years, though she credits their

lowered profile to threats from the government to expose

internal corruption by its leaders. XXXXXX also claimed

that she had been physically threatened by members of AOP in

the past for writing stories critical of the movement. She

felt that more and more people seemed to appear each year to

collect \”compensation\”, and that enough was enough. (COMMENT:

Although AOP is well-known for its non-violent resistance

efforts, it would not be surprising if certain radical

elements within the organization were involved in some of the

unsavory activities reported by XXXXXXXXXXX END COMMENT)

14. (U) Although the Thai Rak Thai Party of PM Thaksin

Shinawatra is extremely popular with Thailand\’s rural poor,

XXXXXXXX repeatedly stressed that the Thai government

\”doesn\’t understand the problems of the poor\”. Using somewhat

leftist jargon, XXXXXXXXXXX argued that the

\”capitalist\” government in Bangkok just uses money to solve

all of its problems and XXXXXXX said she believes the

government \”undervalues people\”, since there had never been

any public hearings regarding the dam, and local people had

never been consulted about the project. They pointed out that

there were victims of similar government projects throughout

Thailand, and that their organization now included members

whose lives had been disrupted by thirty different dams all

over the country.

15. (SBU) COMMENT. After fifteen years of protesting, it

appears that the Pak Mun villagers are no closer to reaching

their ultimate goal of getting back their land. Although many

sources (including a report published by the World Commission

of Dams) agree that the Pak Mun dam has been more trouble

than it\’s worth, it seems that RTG and EGAT are reluctant to

broach dissent for fear that doing so would jeopardize future

dams and \”mega-development projects.\” As time goes by and

residents leave the area, it will become more and more

difficult for Pak Mun villagers to resuurect their lost

communities. The overreaction of the RTG to this kind of

grass-roots activism, (particularly with regard to charges of

treason) is a worrying example of how this government

perceives civil society groups that don,t toe the government

line. END COMMENT

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 22, 2011 at 4:33 am

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