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Premier Lai promises swift action on controversial mining law

2017/11/30 22:19:37

Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德)/CNA file photo

Taipei, Nov. 30 (CNA) Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said Thursday that his Cabinet will seek to submit a draft amendment to Taiwan's Mining Act to the Legislature in one week's time, in an effort to address the controversial issue of limestone mining in indigenous land areas.

As protests continued for the eighth and last day against the renewal of a mining permit to Asia Cement, Lai issued a directive to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to send the Cabinet a draft revision to the Mining Act by Dec. 7, according to a Cabinet spokesperson.

Lai said the Cabinet should then seek to approve the draft amendments and submit them to the Legislature on Dec. 7 the earliest, Cabinet spokesperson Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) told reporters at a press conference.

Lai's directive came amid protest in Xincheng Township, Hualien County, by dozens of Taroko aborigines and environmentalists, who have been blocking an access road to a limestone mining site every day since Nov. 23 when Asia Cement's mining permit was renewed.

Earlier Thursday, non-governmental organizations(NGOs), led by Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan, criticized the government as "dragging its feet" in revising the Mining Act, which they said was fraught with flaws and omissions.

"Asia Cement began operations (in 1973) when I was in elementary school," Lowkin Yudaw, one of the protest leaders, said at a press conference held by the NGOs. "Its mining operations produced extraordinarily loud bangs, while the trucks spewed clouds of sand and dust. Exposure to air and noise pollution has been our lives over the past 40 years."

He said the protests in Xincheng Township were suspended temporarily Thursday because the demonstrators were granted access to the area for only eight days, but they will continue to block the road in wildcat protests to force closure of the Asia Cement mining site.

The issue of the Mining Act came under the spotlight in March when the MOEA approved a 20-year extension to Asia Cement's permit to mine a limestone quarry in Xinchengshan near Taroko National Park, on lands where ancestors of Taroko tribes resided before Han people came. The permit was issued without any prior environmental impact assessment.

In May, the respected documentary filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) posted on his Facebook page an image of the open pit mines operated by Asia Cement and said the quarry was bigger than it was five years ago, when he took pictures of it.

Chi's tragic death in a helicopter crash on June 10 brought the issue into the forefront again and spurred people to sign a petition, take to the streets in protest, and call for the government to revoke Asia Cement's mining permit.

In response, the government promised to revise the Mining Act to mandate environmental impact assessments as a prerequisite to any mining permits.

The government also pledged to bring the Mining Act in line with Article 21 of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act, which requires developers to obtain the approval of local aborigines before starting any projects on aboriginal lands.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)