The Malaysian Insider – Health fears trump race rhetoric in rare earth row

By Shannon Teoh

June 18, 2011

Pro-Lynas demonstrators confront Fuziah (far right) before her session with the review panel in Kuantan. — Picture by Shannon Teoh

KUANTAN, June 18 — “What kind of Malay are you?”

This was shouted at Andansura Rabu, a resident of Balok Perdana who lives just two kilometres from a controversial rare earth plant that is spooking residents in and around Kuantan due to fears of radiation pollution.

He was leaving the Hyatt Regency here early this month after meeting with a team of international experts reviewing the RM700 million project as a representative of Beserah, the beach town in which the refinery is located.

Despite being escorted to his car by police, he was still kicked and strangled before he could make his getaway from an angry mob of about 100 Malay men.

“There is a definite element of racism here. They were telling me I was selling out Malay land and being used by Chinese,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Rising tension during the month-long government-ordered review appeared at first to be drawn along racial lines, but it seems local Malays have not taken the bait.

A straw poll conducted by The Malaysian Insider found that 12 of 13 residents here were against the plant due to health concerns, with a sole female Malay saying she had not yet made her mind up.

Moreover, of the six Malays quizzed, four said if the government went ahead and approved the plant they would not vote for Barisan Nasional (BN) in a general election expected within the year.

The pro-Lynas group was present to intimidate anti-Lynas protestors and even those who were scheduled to voice their concerns before the International Atomic Energy Agency-led (IAEA) review panel.

Although they maintained they were just Kuantan residents, among them were three Umno assemblyman including Pahang state executive councillor Datuk Mohamad Sahfri Ab Aziz.

The Malay-language media has also been muted on the issue while the Chinese press have played up pictures of the scuffles with the pro-Lynas group this week.

According to Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, who has been leading protests against the Lynas Corp refinery, it was only the Chinese media that has followed the issue since she first raised it in late 2008.

In Kuantan town, a Malay woman who only wanted to be known as Syida claimed she was threatened by unknown individuals with detention under the Internal Security Act for supporting the anti-Lynas movement.

“They told us that as Malays we should not be putting up anti-Lynas banners and posters,” said the 38-year-old clerk. “But we still secretly put up small things like car stickers.”

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