A central Vietnamese coastal province’s administration temporarily ceased implementing a titanium extraction project on Sunday to find a suitable action to take, following fierce opposition from people living near the construction area.
Nguyen Duc Chinh, chairman of the People’s Committee in Quang Tri Province, has required Thanh Tam, a mining company tasked with carrying out the titanium plan, to halt its operation near a village in Vinh Linh District.
The firm received the green light from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to find and exploit titanium on a 75.2-hectare piece of forest land of the district in 2016, but in April 2018 it encountered an obstacle from local residents while it was building a road leading to the designated mining zone, about one kilometer away from the village.
One day of the month, the locals put up a makeshift shack squarely across the way, planted national flags around the building and placed at the location images of Ho Chi Minh, a great and highly respected late president of Vietnam whose picture is seen on every Vietnamese banknote.
Police then managed to bring down the structure amidst considerable resistance from the people.
The villagers’ reaction was due to their worry that the titanium project, once completed, would lead to dire environmental consequences, according to Nguyen Dinh Lang, a local man.
They envisioned a gloomy scenario after seeing initial adverse results from another titanium extraction project currently underway in a nearby area.
He affirmed that during earlier meetings with the authorities, villagers all opposed initiating the plan and cutting down trees in the forest near their houses that serve to shield them from the attack of wind-carried sand, which covers part of the district.
Some residents also felt infuriated when the government, without asking for their agreement, allocated to Thanh Tam Company a stretch of land for making a road which runs across their tree-growing areas, Lang said.
But this account contradicts those of officials.
The government and enterprise had twice canvassed the villagers for their views on the project in late 2016 and April 2017, with the result that the majority of them supported it, said Ngo The Thanh, a local official.
Le Thi Tam, director of Thanh Tam Company, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that she had all necessary licenses for titanium extraction in the area from the ministry, and presented your correspondent with a list of 91 signatures of agreement from household representatives in the village, which has 98 houses.
Tam also gave documents showing that those whose farming land was impinged on by the road had already received their compensation.
The firm promised to provide employment to the local people and give each of the villagers VND2 million (US$88) a year, she said.
“In the beginning, nearly all the people agreed with the project but it’s unclear why they reacted violently in early 2018,” the director said.
Tran Huu Hung, chairman of the Vinh Linh District People’s Committee, supposed that part of the problem stems from the fact that the ministry granted the approval but failed to discuss with the district government for more knowledge of the local context.
Hung said while a solution to the project issue remained to be seen, it was unacceptable that many villagers, of their own accord, erected the shack, hung national flags and used the picture of President Ho Chi Minh for their purposes.
This view was echoed by Nguyen Duc Chinh, chairman of the provincial People’s Committee, who called for an immediate punishment for the residents’ action.