Friday, April 29, 2011

Perak Pakatan warns street protest over rare earth deal

April 29, 2011
Kulasegaran described Zambry’s pleas of ignorance on the issue as “shocking”. — file pic
MENGLEMBU, April 29 — Perak Pakatan Rakyat today threatened to take to the streets if the state government fails to rescind its agreement allowing Hong Kong’s CVM Minerals Ltd to explore rare earth mining possibilities in Bukit Merah.

As a prelude, several PR lawmakers gathered at a market here this morning along with a group of residents and staged a mini-protest against the impending project.

Pasir Pinji assemblyman Thomas Su told The Malaysian Insider later that Bukit Merah folk were still sore over the deaths blamed on the country’s first rare earths plant.

Bukit Merah was the site of Malaysia’s last rare earths plant 20 years ago, which is still undergoing a massive RM300 million clean-up. The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Chemical’s Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant has been linked to eight cases of leukaemia, seven resulting in death.

News of the government’s latest bid for a similar initiative, said Su, had triggered a fresh wave of dissent from residents here.

“We want the government to stop the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with CVM Minerals immediately.

“If (Datuk Seri) Zambry (Kadir) fails, we will mobilise the people of Bukit Merah, of Perak and Malaysia to protest and demand a stop to the project,” he said when contacted.

Su said interviews with Bukit Merah residents this morning had confirmed that many were against any rare earth mining project in the area, fearing a repeat of the last rare earth factory disaster in 1992.

He added that although Zambry had pleaded ignorance in the matter, as the chairman of the Perak State Development Corporation (PSDC), the state investment arm that signed the MoU with CVM Minerals, the mentri besar would have the power to rescind the agreement.

“Do not wait for six months until it expires. That would just be an excuse. The people do not want any such plant here,” he said.

Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran, who was also at the protest, questioned the conflicting statements issued by Perak government leaders on the matter.

He said it was “shocking” that Zambry, as the PSDC chairman, was unaware of the MoU between the agency and CVM Minerals.

“How could the mentri besar who also chairs PSDC be totally in the dark about such an agreement?

“How many more ‘low-level agreements’ are there that he is not aware of?” he said, referring to senior state executive councillor Datuk Hamidah Osman’s description of the MoU.

Kulasegaran, who is also DAP national deputy chairman, added that Zambry, upon being informed of the MoU, should have given his immediate assurance that the government would not approve any rare earth plant in Perak.

“Why should it be Hamidah who declared that the government would not issue any permit?” he said.

Kulasegaran also urged Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon, MCA’s sole representative in Perak, to clarify his statement suggesting that there was a possibility that such a project be given the green light.

Dr Mah, who is the Perak Health, Local Government and Environment Committee Chairman, was quoted in news reports as saying, “Even if the project was given approval, there would not be any construction of a rare earth processing plant”.

“Is there some confusion among the government leaders or is there more than that meets the eyes?” Kulasegaran asked.

He said the disaster of the ARE plant should serve as a good lesson for Perak and the state government should declare a no-rare-earth-plant policy for the state.

“It was recently confirmed that 80,000 200L drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town.

“The site is 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide. Cancer-causing radon is released during decay.

“Hence, not only the Perak state government must declare a no more rare earth plant policy for the state, Perakians must also make their stand and voices loud and clear that they reject the set up of any rare earth plant,” he said.

It was reported on Wednesday that the Perak government had entered into an agreement with CVM Minerals Limited allowing it to explore and mine for rare earth in Bukit Merah, even as controversy continues to rage over a similar effort in Gebeng, Kuantan.

In a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on April 18, CVM Minerals announced it had entered into the MoU with the PSDC to carry out the project in Bukit Merah here.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider shortly after the news made headlines, Zambry denied any knowledge of such an MoU and expressed disapproval that his consent had not been sought.

He also said that any rare earth project in the state would be subject to the same standards required by the federal government that recently put the Kuantan’s Lynas Corp plant on ice after public outcry over potential radiation pollution.

PSDC clarified yesterday that its MoU with CVM Minerals was merely to allow the firm to conduct feasibility studies on the viability of mining for rare earths in the area.

Its chief executive officer, Datuk Samsudin Hashim, said in a statement that the MoU had a six-month deadline and would be automatically cancelled should the company’s intention fail to receive approval from any local authority or if the project is not viable.

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