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Thai Cabinet stalls on controversial power plants

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October 11, 2000 


BANGKOK (AP)- The government Tuesday stalled a decision on building two coal-fired power plants that have come under intense criticism from environmentalists and villagers.

After reviewing a public hearing report on the dlrs 2 billion projects, the Cabinet decided to set up a committee to ease social tensions and reach a common understanding, government spokesman Akapol Sorasuchart said.

About 1,000 protesters who had gathered outside the government headquarters in the belief that a decision would be taken one way or another Tuesday, accused the government of trying to buy time.

"We are not happy about the Cabinet action," said Chareon Wat-aksorn, a Bor Nok village representative.

"The government does not listen to the villagers' voice. If it did, why should is wait this long. It should have canceled the projects," he said.

Akapol claimed the projects had been approved six years ago and the "present Cabinet does not have to make any decision."

He said the government still supported the plans despite the protests. Local residents fear air pollution and international environmentalists are concerned that warm water released by the plant will raise temperatures in a nearby lagoon, killing fish and coral reef.

The two private sector ventures at Hin Krut and Bor Nok, 230 kilometers (140 miles) southwest of Bangkok in Prachuab Khiri Khan province, are expected to generate over 2,100 megawatts for sale to Thailand's state electricity agency.

Akapol said the only reason to stop the projects would be if they were found to be violating "any regulations such as environmental laws."

"But there is a need to give right information to local people so that they will understand the necessity of the project and give support eventually," he said.

He said the new committee will include representatives of the police, the Interior Ministry, National Energy Policy Office, the private sector and the local public.

The plants have been subject to a long and rancorous war of wills between advocates and opponents.

In 1998, 5,000 local villagers clashed with thousands of police blocking a major highway that passes by the sites of the two proposed plants. More than 60 people were injured.

In a letter to the Thai government last week, Greenpeace charged that environmental impact assessments for the plants were "inaccurate and grossly misleading."

Union Power Development Co., the consortium developing Hin Krut, says it would meet stringent environmental standards and improve the local economy if it builds the plant.

In February, two major shareholders in the Hin Krut project - Fortum Group of Finland and U.S.-based Consolidated Electric Power Asia - pulled out, citing delays in getting it off the ground.

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