KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has extended a moratorium on bauxite mining, as it grapples with a stockpile that has yet to be cleared despite an official halt to mining activities more than two years ago.
The moratorium was put in place in January 2016, after run-off from unsecured stockpiles of the mineral, dug up by largely unregulated miners, turned rivers and coastal seas red in the eastern state of Pahang, contaminating water sources.
Natural resources and environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the ban has been extended to June 30, to give the government time to finalize a regulatory framework to prevent a repeat of the environmental damage.
“Once all that is ready, we will look at its implementation. We’re not here to ban mining, but it must follow best practices,” he said at a press conference outside parliament.
Wan Junaidi said an estimated stockpile of 10 million tonnes of bauxite had yet to be cleared.
Local residents complained last year about ongoing mining activity, and the government noted in July last year that stockpiles had actually increased in size despite millions of tonnes of exports to top buyer China.
Malaysia was briefly the largest bauxite supplier to China, with shipments peaking at nearly 3.5 million tonnes a month at the end of 2015 as miners rushed to fill a supply gap after neighboring Indonesia banned ore exports.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; editing by Richard Pullin