People in Ban Hon Commune, Tam Duong District, in the northern province of Lai Chau have been rushing to dig up rare earth minerals to sell.
The Dong Pao Rare Earth Mine, the largest in Vietnam, covers a total area of 11 square kilometres and has estimated reserves of 5 million tonnes. The mine is jointly operated by Lai Chau-VIMICO Rare Earth Joint Stock Co. and the Japanese Dong Pao Rare Earth Development Company.
While the two firms have been preparing begin operations, with the target of exploiting around 10,000 tonnes per year, locals have flocked to strip the minerals from the mine themselves, for sale to traders at only VND5,000 per kilogramme (USD0.23). The minerals are then transported to China.
The mine is just seven kilometres from the commune's People’s Committee. Every day hundreds of people flock to the mine on motorbikes, sometimes as many as 100. With 200kg of the ore, one can earn VND1 million (USD47.6 ), a sum that is attractive enough for many people to disregard the law.
The local authorities have set up guard station, but it has proven insufficient to deal with the problem.
Ravaged mountain side
Violators ignore guard post
Blatant sales of the ore
Hundreds of bags ore piled up on the road