Da Lat authorities pass the buck as illegal mining destroys pine forests

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Authorities in central Vietnam said they will use mines this month to destroy underground tunnels excavated under the resort town Da Lat for illegal tin mining.

A Tuoi Tre newspaper report Friday said agencies in the tourism hotspot of Lam Dong Province are passing the buck to each other as the situation has been persistent for years.

The tunnels under the Love Valley were first made in 1995 but the mining operation was soon tracked down..

It returned in March 2007 with 120 tunnels operating even in daylight with hundreds of miners.

Hundreds of pine trees, the iconic tree of the town, were felled to support the tunnels then, forcing local authorities to collapse them to stop the operation.

The tunnels returned again in October last year and were demolished in December.

Now hundreds of meters of the tunnels are still busy day and night.

The tunnels, 1.6 meters high and 0.8 meters wide, are supplied with water, electricity, as well as oxygen.

Tran Tuong, Party Secretary of Da Lat, said the Lam Vien Forest Management Department that manages the valley is to blame, as are the governments of Wards 7 and 8 for not reporting the situation properly.

Tuong said the city government at the end of last year had already asked the city police to destroy the tunnels using explosives.

"We are determined to end the operation this time, and will punish anyone trying to cover it up," Phuong told Tuoi Tre.

But Phan Van Thi, vice chairman of the town's Ward 8 People's Committee, told Tuoi Tre on Wednesday that he has done his best.

Thi said the ward forces including the police have many times filled up the entrance into these tunnels, seizing machines and other equipment, but the tin miners found ways to resume the operation.

On May 15, the ward authorities were about to check the tunnels again but some pesticide had been poured at the entrance and no one could pass it, Thi said.

Pham Dinh Long, chef of the ward's military command, said his staff was not protected in their fight against the miners.

"After every time we destroyed the tunnel entrance, the miners would send us threatening messages and we felt scared," Long said.

Phan Khac Cu, deputy director of Lam Vien company, also said that they have reported the situation regularly to the city government.

Cu said the company was assigned to protect the trees, but the operation was going on underground, so there's nothing they were authorized to do but report it.

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