By an OGJ correspondent
BANGKOK, July 29 -- During recent talks in Thailand, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra assured his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad, that the Thai government would move forward with the delayed Thai-Malay natural gas pipeline project despite strong local opposition.
Last month, long-time opponents of the pipeline had staged peaceful demonstrations in Bangkok and Songkhla, calling for the cancellation of the project. About 100 protestors gathered in front of the Malaysian consulate in Songkhla to lodge a complaint against the project, and in Bangkok their Thai counterparts handed a protest letter to Mahathir through the Malaysian embassy.
The Malaysian prime minister pushed for progress, saying the project had been delayed for 2 years, according to Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Rathakit Manathat.
Mahathir also expressed concerns that the pipeline's rerouting—to come onshore 5 km from the original site in the southern Thai province of Songkhla—would drive up construction costs. Exhibiting his uncertainty as to whether the Thai government was determined to move the project ahead, Mahathir also sought a commitment that there be no disruption, once pipelaying starts and after it is completed.
That came despite the Thaksin administration's May 10 announcement that it had decided to proceed with the cross-country gas transmission system and the associated gas separation plant (OGJOnline, May 14).
Speaking to reporters before Mahathir's visit, Thaksin said he is confident the new route would not affect the locals, adding that the government would work out measures to deal with environmental problems.