[SYDNEY] Thailand's only active gold mine has yet to receive a formal order to shut down over claims it caused contamination suffered by villagers and will continue to operate, the mine's Australian owner said on Wednesday.
The Chatree mine, owned by Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, has been at the centre of protests by farmers and villagers who claim that the mine has poisoned residents, crops and livestock.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha this week told reporters that gold mining in the country would be abolished by the end of the year.
"The government has yet to provide formal notification to close and until it does so, it is business as usual," a spokesman for Kingsgate told Reuters.
The company was assessing its options as well as its legal standing, the spokesman said.
In January 2015, a military government investigation team said that more than 300 people had tested positive for arsenic and manganese at the mine, located 280 km (174 miles) north of the capital Bangkok and operated by Kingsgate unit Akara Resources.
The company at the time denied the claims and was allowed to reopen after a 44-day suspension.
Kingsgate said previous tests carried out by the government indicated that about 100 people living around the mine had high levels of toxic substances in their bodies, but investigations linking the finding to the mine were inconclusive. "There is still no medical basis for these allegations," the spokesman said.
Kingsgate's stock was placed on a voluntary trading halt on the Australian Securities Exchange on Wednesday.
Mr Prayuth said on Tuesday an agreement has been reached between Akara and state agencies to offer health care to affected villagers.
But Akara said in a statement the announcement had come as a surprise and the firm's mining lease was valid until 2028.
The Chatree mine produced and exported 4 tonnes (4,000 kgs) of gold in 2015, worth around US$180 million at current prices.