CHIANG RAI – Governor, Narongsak Osotthanakon who took office just this month after former Governor Boonsong Techamaneesathit was abruptly transfered under section 44 by the Thai Junta, has denied reports that he gave a verbal order to deter protesters from participating in protests against the Chinese operation to survey the Mekong River in Chiang Rai.
Jirasak Inthayot, coordinator of local environmental group Rak Chiang Khong, said yesterday there was an urgent order from Governor Narongsak to District chiefs telling local administrators to block protesters against the Chinese team that is surveying the Mekong River as part of the Navigation Route Improvement project.
When questioned by the media Governor Narongsak said he gave no such order and insisted that the province did not have a policy to prohibit peaceful protests and it was fine for the people to peacefully demonstrate unless there is a violation of law.
However, Jirasak Inthayot, coordinator of local environmental group Rak Chiang Khong said that local community leaders confirmed that there was a verbal order from the governor to stop people from protesting against the survey operation on the Mekong River.
Huai Luek village head Thongsuk Inthawong also said he had heard of the order, adding that people had the right to demonstrate against the project that will affect them.
“The people in my village disagree with the plan to blast the rapids in the Mekong River, because their livelihoods, which are heavily dependent on the river, will change. They insist that they can demonstrate their disagreement to those who are responsible for this project,” Thongsuk said.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith admitted on Tuesday that China had a project to adjust the navigational channel in the Mekong River but said at this stage the existing channel and water currents are just being surveyed.
Sorasak Saensombat, director-general of the Marine Department, said the project would benefit water transport in China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand along the river and similar surveys had been done in sections passing China, Laos and Myanmar.
The survey of the Mekong River is being carried out by China’s CCCC Second Harbor Consultant Co Ltd to study the river channel for blasting, which will deepen the channel in some sections to allow cargo ships to travel the river’s length.
The Chinese team arrived in Chiang Rai last week and plans to survey 15 locations along a 96-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos, from the Golden Triangle to the Kaeng Pha Dai rapids for the duration of 55 days.