PHICHIN – Thailand’s Junta has ordered the closure of Chatree gold mine operated by Akara Mining, Thailand’s only active gold mine by the end of the year, in the wake of concerns it was responsible for arsenic and manganese contamination suffered by villagers.
Villagers have lobbied the Thai Government, saying the mine has caused elevated levels of arsenic and manganese in people and crops. Other locals support the mine, which employs almost 1,000 Thai staff.
In January 2015 a military government investigation team said that more than 300 people tested positive for arsenic and manganese at Akara Resources’ Chatree mine, located 280 km (174 miles) north of the capital Bangkok.
Akara, a subsidiary of Australian company Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, produced and exported 4 tonnes (4,000 kgs) of gold in 2015.
“There will no longer be any gold mines by the end of this year,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
The Chatree mine has been at the center of protests by farmers and villagers who claim that the mine has poisoned residents, crops and livestock.
Akara can continue its operation until the end of the year, Industry Minister Atchaka Sibunruang said in a statement.
An agreement has been reached between the company and state agencies to offer health care to affected villagers, she said.
Akara said in a statement that the cabinet announcement came as a surprise and that the firm’s mining lease was valid until 2028.
“Time after time we have proven conclusively that we cause no harm to the health of our community or the environment,” Akara said. “We contribute large amounts to the Thai economy.”
Akara is 48-per cent owned by Australian company Kingsgate Consolidated.
The Chatree gold mine is located 280 kilometres north of Bangkok, in Pichit province, and is Thailand’s biggest mining operation.
By Kitiphong Thaicharoen and Pracha Hariraksapitak – Reuters