Clay mining destroys tea in Vietnam highlands town

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Mud from kaolin mines has buried tea fields in Bao Loc

Kaolin mining is destroying tea fields in Bao Loc in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.

Locals blamed local officials who in turn other authorities, including some higher-ups.

For more than a year earth excavated from around 50 mines to mine the fine white clay has buried many tea gardens in Loc Chau Commune and polluted dozens of streams, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported Sunday.

Around 60 trucks, sometimes 100, carry kaolin from the area every day.

Vu Van Dan, a tea farmer, said his garden was buried after a rain.

The migrant who had brought his family from a province up north said he earned nearly VND10 million (US$480) a month from the garden, which was helping improve his four children's future.

Dan and his wife have been working as farm laborers since losing their land. They borrowed more than VND100 million for their house construction last year, and the money is soon going to fall due.

"We might have to sell the house to pay the debt," he told Tuoi Tre.

Many other farmers are struggling to find water to irrigate their tea crop since their plants withered after the water in the B'Lao Stream turned red.

The excavation has not only destroyed the tea fields but also eroded land, taking away coffee farms.

Vo Van My, a local farmer, said. "My coffee farm used to be 1.5 hectares, but only half remains."

He and more than 10 other farmers complained to the commune, town, and province authorities and sought compensation.

"But they have stayed silent."

Dao Ngoc Tuyen, a legal official in Loc Chau Commune, estimated that the mining has damaged at least 50 hectares of tea and coffee in the area.

While local people said the mining comes within the purview of local authorities, the latter blamed other officials.

Cao Thi Thom, chairwoman of Loc Chau Commune, said whenever she helped local residents put up barriers to stop trucks from entering the area for excavation, she would receive phone calls blaming her for not assisting someone's relatives. However, she did not mention names.

She had strongly objected to licensing the mining, she said. "I have, a hundred times, urged relevant agencies to revoke the licenses issued to some businesses, but they have turned a deaf ear.

"More licences were issued freely."

Nguyen Van Quy, head of the Bao Loc town Natural Resources and Environment Office, said one of several people prevented from mining is a brother of Nguyen Ngoi Sao, the commune Party secretary.

Sao and possibly other commune officials were helping the miners by tipping them off about raids, he said.

"We have carried out many raids but hardly caught anyone mining. There is a high chance that officials from the commune gave those people a tip-off since we had to inform the commune a couple days in advance," he said.

Phung Ngoc Hap, vice chairman of Bao Loc, also said he could do nothing since the mining was helped by insiders.

They said the province chairman should take action.

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