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Malaysian Residents Oppose Rare Earths Refinery

Malaysia’s High Court has given the green light to the construction of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) near Kuantan after it rejected petitions to annul the permit given by the government for the project. The plant, which is an undertaking of an Australian company, will be the world's biggest refinery for rare earths.

The project is being  intensely opposed by environment groups and residents near Kuantan who fear for the safety and health of their communities. Ram Govindasamy, a community organizer, echoes the sentiment of the opposition block:

We do not want Lynas in Malaysia! We will campaign strong and hard to vote OUT the current government that approved the Lynas rare earth plant. Malaysians are sick and tired of a corrupted and irresponsible government. We want to reclaim our democracy and future

From the Stop Lynas website

Haji Ismail Abu Bakar warns Lynas that its recent court victory doesn’t mean that the resistance will subside in Malaysia:

If Lynas thinks that we rakyat (people) will simply give up just like this, then it has completely under estimated how strongly we are opposed to its rare earth refinery project. We want a future for our children and their children. We do not want them and the future generations to bear the burden of having to deal with the pollution problems and the millions of tonnes of toxic radioactive waste left behind by Lynas tax free

A group of mothers from Kuantan have written a letter addressed to the Prime Minister asking the latter to disapprove the project:

Malaysia will earn a poor reputation for hosting such a world-scale hazardous project and allowing a foreign company to dump millions of tonnes of toxic radioactive waste (imported from Australia) onto our beautiful shore tax free. Only a third world country will do that!

As mothers, we are extremely concerned with the impact of such a poor and ill-considered decision on our family and the many generations to come.

We appeal to you, Honourable Prime Minister, a loyal son of Pahang and as a father, to exercise your duty of care and to show strong leadership to intervene in the interests of the rakyat and for the country’s long-term sustainable development before it is too late.

Charles Hector argues that the Lynas project mirrors the state of governance in the country:

What is happening in Lynas is reflective of the Barisan Nasional government that we now have – a government that seems to place public health and safety of the people (the ‘rakyat') at a low priority…

But Malaysians are no longer cowed into silence by the government but will continue the struggle for justice and rights…

Route of the “green walk’ in protest against the rare earth refinery. Photo from blog of JW

In response to the court order allowing the construction of the refinery, hundreds of individuals and groups have embarked on a ‘long march’ or a ‘green walk’ from Kuantan to the country’s capital to dramatize their protest. One of the group’s leaders, Mr Wong Tack, was interviewed by Tan Kai Swee:

When I planned the walk, I was prepared to do it all alone. When I started the walk on November the 13th from Kuantan, to my surprise more than 50 people joined in the walk including 13 Kenyahs from Baram, Sarawak.

Today is something I never expected, it is extraordinary and I am very touched. More and more people are coming to realise the true meaning of this walk.

JW, a participant of the ‘green walk’ is inspired by the support given by ordinary citizens:

Along the way, Green Walk received a lot of support from the kind hearted. There are medical doctors (who) traveled all the way from Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan putting their medical license at stake. One particular Chinese Medical Doctor, Yong attended Kg. Awah (in the) middle of the night. “i don't (have) money, car, house, what left of me is medical knowledge,” he said.

There are restaurants being warned (against) offering food to Green Walk participants, risking their operation license, they went all the way, giving shelter, food, drinks and then they “green walked”. There are people donating coconuts, ice-creams, socks, chicken essence……

to be able to inspire does keep the morale high.

But not all Malaysians are opposed to the plant. NK Khoo accuses the opposition of spreading misinformation about the project:

I have appealed for a long time to any anti-Lynas group to buy me a terrace house next to Lynas plant for me to stay there as a guinea pig to prove my belief that the Lynas plant is safe for human beings

The Choice sees massive economic gains for Malaysia if the refinery is constructed:

It is therefore in Malaysia's interest that this strategically important facility is allowed, to expand our green technology base and create local jobs.

But the national interest probably means nothing to the few protesters who want to stall the project for their own selfish agenda. In any case, most analysts believe that their legal challenges will not succeed in stalling the plant

Trying to force a legitimate plant to cease operations merely to score political brownie points, speaks volumes on how their personal agenda has blinded the protesters to the larger national interest.

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