A group of Malaysian activists has embarked on a 300 km walk from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur to demand for an end to various environment grievances afflicting their communities. The walk, which began on 13th of November, will take them across 14 towns over 14 days and will culminate in a handling over of memorandum at Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, on the 26th of November.
The starting point of Kuantan is of particular significance because it is where the recent surge in environmental activism began. The community there is fighting the largest rare earth plant in the world owned by Lynas from commencing operation. They are joined by activists opposing the Murum and Baram dams in Sarawak, Raub activists opposing the use of cyanide in gold mining, Pengerang activists opposing the RAPID petrochemical complex as well as Teluk Rubiah activists opposing the Vale iron ore distribution hub.
The walk, dubbed “Green Walk”, is a continuation of numerous protests organised under the banner of Himpunan Hijau, literally meaning ‘Green Gathering’. The previous five Himpunan Hijau drew thousands, and some in excess of ten thousand.
A familiar discontentment runs through these protests: the public were not meaningfully consulted during the approval of these projects, and very often these projects are surreptitiously approved and allowed to operate despite public outcry. The Lynas rare earths plant takes on an additional national sovereignty dimension as the community perceives Lynas to be exporting pollution to their land to circumvent tough environmental regulations back home in Australia.
Of the various grievances, the Lynas plant is of special urgency as they are about commence operation as soon as next month in December. Lynas have recently won a court decision lifting the suspension of their Temporary Operating License and therefore will be able to import the ore legitimately. The ore will be processed to extract valuable rare earths metals to be exported, but the fate of the concomitant radioactive waste is not satisfactorily resolved and may very well end up being permanently dumped in Kuantan.
As all avenues to stop the plant have been exhausted, the community embarked on the Green Walk to inspire the people to join in the human blockade of the ore when it arrives in Malaysia. Although most participants do not walk the full distance, as the walk progresses, the participants have grown in size, and is expected to number in the thousands during the final few stretches approaching the capital.
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