Junta Orders All Gold Mines Shut Down

Representatives from 12 provinces across the country protest Sept. 22, 2016 at Government House in Bangkok, where they filed a complaint urging the junta chief to shut down all of Thailand’s gold mines.

BANGKOK — The military government yesterday ordered every gold mine in the country to shut down by the end of this year.

Communities in northern Thailand were celebrating victory Tuesday after they appeared to prevail in a long-running struggle with mine operators after the interim cabinet said it will revoke approval for gold mining and gold prospecting in the kingdom by the end of 2016.

“We consider the policy of developing gold mining in Thailand not necessary at the moment,” industry minister Atchaka Sibunruang said Tuesday.

The order covers all operators including the largest, Akara Resources PCL, which operates mines  in Phichit, Phitsanulok and Phetchabun. Residents of those communities have complained of harmful effects on the environment and public health.

Although government studies could not firmly link the adverse effects to mining operations, Atchara said, related ministries proposed shutting them down to relieve the conflict.

The strife began not long after the mines began operating. Akara, the largest and partly Australian owned, received its license to mine in the three provinces in 2001. For over a decade now, communities have complained of pollution and toxic contamination caused by the mines. Several tests found people living nearby had unsafe levels of heavy metals.

Atchara cited a 2014 order from junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha ordering that gold mine operations must be transparent, environmentally friendly and not opposed by the community.

It also may not make economic sense to continue operations. Industry estimates put the rate and cost of gold domestic gold extraction as unfavorable to what can be imported; therefore, it was deemed not worth the investment.

Akara, which employs more than 1,000 workers, will be allowed to continue refining gold ore until the end of 2016, Atchara said, to reduce the impact on its workforce.

In a statement issued after the cabinet’s decision, Akara said it was surprised and would fight it in the courts.

“We currently have not received any official notice from the government,” the statement said, adding that its mining license was approved through 2028.

Minister Atchara said the cabinet is unconcerned, as it was executing the policy set forth by the ruling junta.