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One last stand: A rural Thai community declares victory in a struggle against a limestone quarry

Photography by Luke Duggleby

The convoy of pick-ups and trucks carrying hundreds of villagers weaved between paddy fields on its way to the provincial capital of Nong Bua Lamphu in Northeast Thailand. The group had an appointment with the province’s governor and various government representatives at the Provincial Hall. It was a trip they had taken before, but this time around, they were going to ensure that their collective voice would be heard.

Almost three decades ago, a struggle began between several communities nestled between rocky limestone outcrops and a private stone mining company. Affected by daily explosions at the mine, and fearing degradation of the area’s religious and historical sites, the people of Dong Mafai sub-district have been trying to stop the mine ever since.

The early years of this struggle were exceedingly deadly for the community, with four environmental group members being killed, two in 1993 and two in 1999. The latest killings included the acting Sub-District Chief Tongmuan Khamjem, ambushed and shot dead while riding a motorbike with another man on a quiet country road.

When the mining permits were due to expire in September 2020, the communities prepared what they described as the last big push to stop the mining by blockading and occupying the entrance to the quarry.

On 3 September, the day the mine’s forestry permit expired, hundreds of community members marched into the quarry, reclaiming the land that once was a community forest. Their blockade continues until today.

Photographer Luke Duggleby visited the community on several occasions, documenting their struggle that, eventually after 26 years, became a rare success story.

“We decided that if we cannot shut down the mine then we will not cremate his body.”

“We have been fighting against the quarry for 26 years since I was 40 years old. I want it to end in my generation. I don’t want the younger generation, my children and grandchildren to continue this struggle.”

Luke Duggleby is a Bangkok based photojournalist who frequently documents environmental community struggles. In 2018, he was awarded for his contribution in covering human rights issues in Thailand by the National Human Rights Commission.

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