Thailand villagers urge govt to act fast over arsenic poisoning

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Villagers living near Thailand's largest gold mine asked the Thai government on Monday to quickly prove the source of arsenic and manganese contamination that has led to a suspension in operations at the mine.

Output at the Australian-run mine has been suspended for 30 days while inquiries are conducted and the suspension could be extended if the miner fails to come up with evidence within that time. Thailand's forensic science institute told the mine to address contamination fears on Friday.

The Chatree mine, Thailand's first and largest gold mine, began operations in 2001. Located 280km north of Bangkok in central Phichit province, the mine is operated by Akara Resources Public Company, a subsidiary of Sydney-based Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd.

Testing conducted in November by a Thai government team on 700 villagers living near the mine found that more than 300 people, including children, tested positive for arsenic and manganese. The government says it is still uncertain whether the poisons originate from the mine.

Kingsgate Chairman Ross Smyth-Kirk said on Friday that the company was not responsible for any arsenic or manganese present in the area.

Wanpen Promsangsun, a representative for villagers from three provinces in and near the mine, said villagers working on and living near the mine want immediate answers. "We ask the government to immediately find the source of poisoning. We cannot use our usual water sources because of suspicion of contamination. Nobody has taken responsibility.