Army ends Songkhla-Bangkok energy-reform march, detains activists
August 20, 2014, 8:16 am

A 1,400km march for energy reform ended almost before it began when military authorities, citing martial law, halted the trek and detained its 12 core organisers.

The “Partnership on Energy Reform” group was taken to the Senanarong army camp in Hat Yai district of Songkhla province Wednesday after a second round of negotiations with the 42nd Military Circle failed.

Worrapon Worrapan, chief-of-staff of the military circle, told the activists instead to convey their position to policymakers on the soon-to-be-established National Reform Council.

“I understand what you’re doing, but it’s against [martial] law,” Col Worrapon told the group. “I don’t want to enforce it. Please stop right here and use the right channels.”

The marchers – comprising advocates from Songkhla, Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Satun, Krabi and Chumphon provinces – are members of an energy-reform network of civic groups based in the South, Central Plains and Northeast. About 100 people began the march, and all but the 20 activists went home after the first day.

Led by Ekkachai Issaratha, they had planned to walk 16 to 18 kilometres a day and had hoped to submit their five-point demand list to the National Council for Peace and Order after arriving in Bangkok in approximately 77 to 87 days.

The group’s main demand is the removal of new coal-fired power plants from the country’s energy strategy, both for public health and environmental conservation reasons. Other demands include a shift from the current energy concession system to a production sharing system; establishment of a national company to ensure the public recieves “fair” prices for petroleum products; clearly divided zones for petroleum production, cultivation and tourism; and an accelerated effort to enact a renewable-energy law.

Even before hitting the road, activists had to deal with the 42nd Military Circle, which tried to get them to cancel their march, saying it violated the martial law prohibition on political gatherings However, the activists insisted they would continue, arguing that their rally had nothing to do with politics and was not intended to incite public disorder.

They did not get far. By Tuesday evening, Mr Ekkachai’s group had reached Songkhla’s Bang Klam district and set up a small stage to deliver an address on energy reform. He insisted then that he would continue to march until soldiers arrested him.

He did not have to wait long. The military relaunched talks in Rattaphum district in the same province. When the marchers refused to stop voluntarily, they were forced to.

Twelve key leaders were still detained at the army camp. The fate of the others is unclear. The detained campaigners include Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, director of Chana hospital in Songkhla.

Group members wrote on their “Energy for All” Facebook page that the trek was ”temporarily suspended”.

While Hat Yai lies about 1,000 kilometres from Bangkok, the group did not plan to use the most-direct or shortest route to the capital. Instead, they planned to hike through areas where there were high levels of public awareness on energy reforms. As a result, the total distance of the march was estimated at 1,400 kilometres and would have taken more than two months to complete.

Source: Bangkok Post