Vietnam okays research on controversial cave cable car

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An explorer repels down into Son Doong cave in Quang Binh Province. Photo credit: quangbinh.gov.vn/Vietnam News Agency An explorer repels down into Son Doong cave in Quang Binh Province. Photo credit: quangbinh.gov.vn/Vietnam News Agency

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Despite opposition from travelers and caution from the UNESCO, the tourism ministry has allowed Quang Binh Province to start planning a cable car project that will penetrate into Son Doong, the world’s largest cave.
On Friday, VnExpress news website quoted a spokesman of the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Culture as saying Quang Binh had been asked to set up a plan for its cable car project in Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, and seek experts' opinions about it.
"The [Tourism] Ministry does not have the right to allow or ban Quang Binh Province to plan for the cable car project" in Son Doong, the spokesman, Phan Dinh Tan, is quoted as saying.
The ministry would study the plan and consult UNESCO before making its own opinions on whether the project should be given the go-ahead. 
The plan would then be submitted to the prime minister for the final decision, Tan said.
The consensus was reached during a meeting between the ministry and the provincial government on Thursday, according to VnExpress.
At the meeting, according to Tan, the ministry asked the province to set up a plan for the cable car project, which would undergo consultation with scientists, conservation experts and related authorities.
The process would have to comply with the Law of Cultural Heritage and the country's international commitments, Tan said.
It remains unclear how or why the ministry reversed course on a dispatch, dated November 7, which said the cable car project lacked sufficient input from experts at UNESCO and could, therefore not "be incorporated into the aggregate planning of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park at this stage.”
On Thursday, Quang Binh agreed to submit its cable car plan to the ministries of tourism, agriculture and construction as well as UNESCO's local office before presenting it to the UN organization in Paris.
Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted an anonymous source as saying that Quang Binh has not created an official plan for the project yet, and the Da Nang developer and Austrian cable car builder have only been hired to do surveying work in the park.
Last month, the province held a press conference with both entities to announce the construction of a US$212-million cable car system to Son Doong Cave, which contains at least 150 individual grottos, a dense subterranean jungle, and several underground rivers.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a UNESCO’s advisory body, has asked Quang Binh to justify the plan, noting that it could impact the park’s world heritage site status.
Tourism arrivals to Quang Binh spiked significantly this year -- rising to a rate equal to or higher than established destinations like Hue or Danang due largely to the attraction of its caves.
More than 65,000 people from all over the world have signed for a petition against the cable car project.

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