BANGKOK—Vietnamese police have searched the Hanoi home of an academic who spoke out on his Web site against Chinese-run bauxite mines in Vietnam and questioned him as well, a co-owner of the site said Wednesday.
“Police came to [Nguyen] Hue Chi’s home today, and maybe they will come to my house tomorrow,” writer Pham Toan, co-owner of the site, said, adding that he expects to be next.
“They confiscated a computer central processing unit from Chi’s house and took him for interrogation,” Toan said.
“They also came to my house, but I wasn’t there … They didn’t have my cell phone number so they told my wife to call me. I said I was busy and couldn’t get home right away. They said they would come back tomorrow.”
Toan also cited widespread hacking of the site, all from China-based addresses.
More mines possible
Chi, speaking in an interview after a full day of questioning, downplayed the situation.
“They may send for me more than one time, but this is normal … There will be more talks, but I don’t think there’s a problem,” he said.
The site has taken aim on security and environmental grounds at bauxite mines run by the Chinese state aluminum company Chalco in central Vietnam.
Chalco has opened two bauxite-mining and -processing plants in central Vietnam in the last two years. Four more are under consideration.
Bauxite mining drew national attention last year when war hero Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap urged the government to reconsider it. Hanoi doesn’t want anti-China sentiments to get out of hand, and it tightly controls the country’s media.
Giap’s letter sparked an onslaught of opposition from scientists, activists, and legislators.
Critics have collected more than 3,000 signatures from Vietnamese intellectuals in Vietnam and overseas to protest the mines in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
The government promised a full environmental impact assessment of the projects last summer but has not published any so far.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called the bauxite mine “a major policy of the party and the state.”
The government’s master plan calls for investments of around U.S. $15 billion by 2025 to tap Vietnam’s rich bauxite reserves, estimated to be the third-largest in the world.
Bauxite is considered the most important aluminum ore and is generally strip-mined.
Most residents say they expect the mine to provide badly needed jobs, as Vietnam's economy slows sharply as a result of the worldwide slowdown.
The state-run Vietnamese company Vinacomin (Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group) has begun building an aluminum factory and is preparing for major mining operations in Lam Dong and Dac Nong provinces.
Vinacomin is aiming for annual aluminum production of 4.8 million to 6.6 million tons by 2015, state media have reported.
Original reporting by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Vietnam service director: Khanh Nguyen. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.