[BANGKOK] Thailand has ordered the closure of its only active gold mine by the end of the year, the industry ministry said on Tuesday, in the wake of concerns it was responsible for contamination suffered by villagers.
In January 2015 a military government investigation team said that more than 300 people tested positive for arsenic and manganese at Akara Resources' Chatree mine, located 280 km (174 miles) north of the capital Bangkok.
Akara, a subsidiary of Australian company Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, produced and exported 4 tonnes (4,000 kgs) of gold in 2015.
"There will no longer be any gold mines by the end of this year," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
The Chatree mine has been at the centre of protests by farmers and villagers who claim that the mine has poisoned residents, crops and livestock.
Akara can continue its operation until the end of the year, Industry Minister Atchaka Sibunruang said in a statement.
An agreement has been reached between the company and state agencies to offer health care to affected villagers, she said.
Akara said in a statement that the cabinet announcement came as a surprise and that the firm's mining lease was valid until 2028.
"Time after time we have proven conclusively that we cause no harm to the health of our community or the environment," Akara said. "We contribute large amounts to the Thai economy."