“We have received a lot of donation[s] to repair the bridge. [To] comfort villagers, our new Sayardaw (abbot of Wat Wang Wiwekaram) has agreed with authorities, who would lead the bridge reconstruction project. But, because it [has] not happen[ed] as the authorities promised, we now urge [the authorities] to hand over the bridge [reconstruction project] back to us,” said protest leader Nai Ah-na.
About 300 local Mon people gathered on the wooden bridge at 9:00 AM, holding signs written in Thai and shouting slogans of ‘Return our bridge to us’ and ‘We do not want a new contract to continue repairing the bridge’. The protest lasted one hour, and attracted some Thai media groups who came to gather news about the protest.
“Today, it has already been one year, as determined by the one-year [repair contract]. Now, as you can see, only [a] very small part of the bridge has been repaired. That [authorities] request to extend [the contract] for one month for bridge reparation is not accepted by the villagers, because they will fix it as fast as they can, but it will not be [built] as good as it should be. And, as a result, the bridge will collapse again; that is what the villagers are concerned very much [about],” said Nai Ah-na.
Nai Ah-na explains that the group holding the contract for the bridge reconstruction is using pre-matured ironwood trees, and no one believes that the pre-matured trees will be able to defend against heavy rain.
Last year, the head of Kanchanaburi district assured the Mon villagers that reconstruction of the Mon wooden bridge would be completed within a year. With reconstruction donations of 16 million baht, the head of the district signed a contract with a construction group for the rebuilding.
“We have been working regularly, as agreed with district authorities,” said bridge reconstruction contractor Nai Sornseik Suwatnaram, in an interview with IMNA, “That matter of the contract is expired today, but how to continue to implement the work [of rebuilding the bridge] is concerned with the district authorities. We also understand how locals here feel about it.”
The protest took place on Mon Side, Sangkhlaburi. Some officials from the Sangkhlaburi Town administration office, local authorities, and police were present, but they did not interrupt the protesters.
“Along with [a] contract, 16 million baht was provided for bridge reconstruction. If we, the villagers, repair the bridge, it will not cost even close to 5 million baht. How Sayardaw Uttama [originally] built it is proving [that reconstruction costs less than 5 million baht]. And, it did not even take this long,” said Wengka villager Mi Hongsar.
Since the collapse of the bridge, local students and daily workers from Mon side (Wengka Village) have encountered some difficulties in their daily crosses to Thai side (Sangkhlaburi Town) and, the number of tourists has decreased, causing an impact on local incomes.
The Mon wooden bridge is about 900 meters long, and connects Wengka Village and Sangkhlaburi Town across the 440 meter Sangkla River. Construction of the bridge was initiated thirty years ago by the late, revered Mon Senior Monk Uttama. On July 28th of last year, the bridge was hit by a strong current during heavy rains, causing about 70 meters in the middle of the bridge to collapse.
The Mon wooden bridge is the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. The bridge connects Sangkhlaburi Town to Wengka Village, which has a predominately Mon population, and is known to be rich in Mon culture and tradition, and home to the well-known Mon Village.