By Shannon Teoh
KUANTAN, June 18 — After being bullied from making their stand before an international panel of experts earlier this month, residents opposed to a RM700 million rare earth plant have closed the door to the government.
Accusing the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration of making “a pathetic” show of engaging stakeholders, the Save Malaysia group spearheading the local movement against the project told The Malaysian Insider that it will focus on building public sentiment against the plant.
“The only way to get the government to act is with votes. So we will increase public pressure to indirectly force the government to act. No more direct engagement,” said chairman Tan Bun Teet.
Save Malaysia pulled out of its meeting with the panel reviewing Australian miner Lynas Corp’s project on June 2 citing security fears.
They were twice chased away by pro-Lynas demonstrators from the Hyatt Regency, where the International Atomic Energy Agency-led (IAEA) team was based. A community leader from Beserah was also assaulted by the same group.
The pro-Lynas demonstrators, who held up banners supporting the IAEA and Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, had also intimidated Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh and reporters over the two days that the nine-man panel was meeting local stakeholders.
Among the 100 or so men were three Umno assemblyman — state executive councillor Datuk Mohamad Sahfri Ab Aziz as well as Norolazali Sulaiman and Mohd Zaili Besar, Guai and Panching representatives respectively.
“On one hand, the government says it wants to engage stakeholders. On the other, it makes a mockery of the process when Umno-BN is behind these thugs and hooligans who are disrupting a peaceful gathering,” said Tan.
With the panel due to submit its recommendations to the government at the end of the month, Tan said that Save Malaysia would instead focus on activating local residents to the cause and adding signatures to a petition that PKR vice president Fuziah says is already touching 52,000 names.
A straw poll by The Malaysian Insider found 12 of 13 Kuantan residents wanted the plant scrapped with over two-thirds saying they will not vote for BN if it decided to approve the project.
Residents in Beserah — where the plant is located — calling themselves Badan Bertindak Anti-Rare Earth, will also adopt a similar strategy.
“I have no confidence that the government is willing to listen to our views. But the public will hear and then the government will take notice,” said chairman Andansura Rabu told The Malaysian Insider.
Save Malaysia also declined an offer from the government to reschedule its slot with the panel after the ruckus early this month.
“We did not even want this panel in the first place, but since they wanted to speak to stakeholders, we agreed to meet in Kuantan. But we know the government won’t act unless there is a political cost,” he added.
The government bowed to public pressure in April and put the project on ice pending the month-long review but Lynas still expects to begin operations in September.
Lynas Corp’s plans has faced mounting opposition due to fears of radiation pollution that has been linked to health problems such as birth defects and cancer.