Vietnamese war hero fires salvo over mining plan
HANOI — An ageing Vietnamese war hero used the 55th anniversary of the defeat of French colonial forces on Thursday to fire his latest salvo in a battle over a controversial mining plan, a report said.
General Vo Nguyen Giap, 97, masterminded Vietnam's victory over the French on May 7, 1954 at Dien Bien Phu but more recently has been known as the country's most prominent opponent of government plans to allow bauxite mining in the Central Highlands region.
"I hope you pay attention to bauxite mining in the Central Highlands," the VietnamNet online news site quoted him telling top government officials, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
"This is a strategic site of the country, which is very important in defence and security, not only for Vietnam but Indochina," he reportedly told them when they visited his Hanoi home as part of Dien Bien Phu commemorations.
"The government would like to know your opinion," Dung was quoted as responding to Giap, second only to Vietnamese Communist Party founding father Ho Chi Minh as the most revered figure in Vietnam's recent history.
In open letters to the government, Giap has already warned of mining's danger to the environment, the lives of ethnic minorities and Vietnam's "security and defence."
The government in 2007 approved a plan for two major mining operations to be run by state-owned Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin).
In a one-party state where public protest is rare, the move triggered a public outcry from scientists, intellectuals and former soldiers.
They said the environmental and social damage from the mines would far outweigh any economic benefit, and pointed to security concerns because a Chinese company has been granted a contract to build one of the projects.
Vietnam's most powerful ruling body, the Politburo, last month endorsed the bauxite mining but said it must be carried out with respect for the environment and local residents.
Agence France Presse - May 7, 2009