The country's first alumina plant in Lam Dong province is now due to get its first product on Sept. 20, the report said, quoting Tran Duong Le, deputy director of the complex's management board.

Last October officials said the $460 million Tan Rai alumina plant, invested by state mining group Vinacomin, would start operations in February 2011 and being exporting in March.

"Construction progress has been far behind initial plans because of unfavourable weather with much rain, prolonged power shortages, a lack of labour and slow procedures for importing equipment," Le said in the report.

The Tan Rai refinery is slated to produce 600,000 tonnes a year of alumina, a white powder made from bauxite ore for producing aluminium.

Construction, equipment installation and test-runs have almost been completed in connection with a thermal power plant that serves the complex, the report said.

Vinacomin, or the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group, has also been developing the Nhan Co project in Lam Dong's neighbouring province of Dak Nong, with projected initial output of 600,000 tonnes of alumina.

The bauxite works have triggered rare public criticism over potential environmental damage and Chinese involvement, but Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has stood by the projects, saying they would pave the way for an aluminium industry in Vietnam.

Vinacomin has awarded the engineering, procurement and construction contract for both the complexes in Lam Dong and Dak Nong to China Aluminum International Engineering Co (Chalieco).

Chalieco is a subsidiary of state-owned Aluminum Corp of China, or Chinalco, the country's top aluminium producer.

Vietnam's mostly untouched bauxite ore reserves are estimated at between 5.6 billion and 8.3 billion tonnes, making it the world's third-largest after Guinea and Australia.

Lam Dong alone has more than 1 billion tonnes, provincial authorities have said.

Vinacomin planned to start operating the Nhan Co complex in Dak Nong in 2012, Deputy Chief Executive Bui Van Khich was quoted as saying by the Saigon Times Online newspaper (www.thesaigontimes.vn) in April.

Vinacomin has also started a two-year exploration of the bauxite reserves in Cambodia's eastern province of Mondulkiri bordering Dak Nong, the report said.

Lam Dong and Dak Nong are among Vietnam's biggest coffee growing provinces but the bauxite mining areas would not hurt coffee trees, traders said. Vietnam is the world's second-largest coffee producer after Brazil.

By Ho Binh Minh - Reuters - July 20, 2011