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Thai villagers win lead pollution court battle

Ethnic minority villagers at the centre of a nine-year legal dispute over lead pollution from a mine in western Thailand won their fight for increased compensation on Thursday.

Thailand's Supreme Administrative Court ordered the government to pay 3.9 million baht ($128,000) shared between 22 plaintiffs from a Karen community living near the Klity Creek in Kanchanaburi province.

It said the government's Department of Pollution Control had failed to prepare a contingency plan in case of a leak, while efforts to tackle the problem only made it worse.

Both sides had appealed a lower court decision in 2008 to award a total of 783,226 baht in compensation to the plaintiffs for the contamination from a mine operated by Lead Concentrate Ltd. until its closure in 1998.

Village chief Yasae Nasuansuwan said his community -- home to 400 people -- had suffered from lead pollution since 1975.

"We have had health problems such as stomach ache while many women feel tense because they no longer use water from the creek for their daily activities," he told AFP after the ruling.

"About six to seven people died when high levels of lead were found in the creek, but I don't know if they all died from the lead because we didn't go to see a doctor," he said.

The court ordered the government regularly to test the contamination levels, but villagers expressed disappointment that it did not set a timetable to clean up the creek.

Activist Surapong Kongchantuk, director of the Karen Studies and Development Center, welcomed the ruling as "the beginning of standards in environmental cases" in the kingdom.

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