Protesters yesterday gathered in front of an Asia Cement Corp mine in Hualien County’s Sincheng Township (新城) to demand an end to the company’s quarry operations.
The Executive Yuan on Dec. 7 last year proposed an amendment to the Mining Act (礦業法) that would require quarries in Aboriginal territories to obtain the consent of Aboriginal communities.
However, the Sincheng quarry was exempted because the Bureau of Mines in March last year extended the company’s mining rights by 20 years.
Aborigines from the Taroko National Park area yesterday said the Executive Yuan’s approval of the amendment was illegal and demanded that their traditional land, which is occupied by the quarry, be returned to them.
Tien Ming-cheng (田明正), who was leading the protesters, said the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ approval of the amendment was in breach of Article 21 of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法), which stipulates that development on Aboriginal land must be approved by the communities that would be affected.
The ministry overlooked the safety of the people and property of those living near the mine, he said.
“Taroko Gorge is not Douglas Hsu’s (徐旭東) private fish pond. It is the traditional land of Taroko Aborigines,” he said.
Hsu is the chairman of Asia Cement’s parent company, Far Eastern Group.
New Power Party Legislator Kawlo Iyun Pacidal said Article 21 requires at least half of the Aborigines who would be affected by land-related decisions to be in agreement before the decisions can be acted upon.
Applications must be discussed in a meeting of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, she said, adding that she plans to inspect the processes by which the extension was granted.
She said she would demand compensation for those whose rights were breached.
Asia Cement on Tuesday said it would ensure that the mine is environmentally sound, that water sources near the mine are protected and that mining safety standards meet regulations.
The company said it would work with relevant authorities to accommodate regular inspections and supervision of the mine’s operations.
All relevant data would be made available publicly, and the company would work with local Aboriginal communities in the spirit of Article 21, it said, adding that it would be happy to continue three-way talks with the government and Aboriginal communities.
The ministry said that three-way talks were first proposed by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in a meeting of the Presidential Office’s Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee on Dec. 28 last year.
Five such talks have been held since January, attended by Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Yao Jen-to (姚人多), Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i (林萬億), Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫) and Minister of Economic Affairs Sheng Jong-chin (沈榮津), they said.
The ministry also hoped to allay concerns that the mine would be exempt from future environmental impact assessments, saying that under new regulations, mines larger than 2 hectares, as well as those with an output in excess of 50,000 tonnes over five years, must undergo an assessment within three years of the amendment’s passage.
Asia Cement’s quarries will not be exempted from this regulation, the ministry said.
Sheng said he hopes the company would take the interests of the Aboriginal communities into consideration.
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