Vietnam's most powerful ruling body has endorsed a controversial bauxite mining project but said it must be carried out with respect for the environment and local residents, state media said on Monday.
The Politburo, comprised of top government and Communist party officials, said a decision to tap the country's abundant bauxite reserves was "correct", the Vietnam News reported.
In 2007 the government approved a plan for two major mining operations to be run by state-owned Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin) in the country's Central Highlands.
In a one-party state where public protest is rare, the move triggered a public outcry from scientists, intellectuals and former soldiers whose opposition combined with denunciations from fierce critics of the regime.
They said the environmental and social damage from the mines would far outweigh any economic benefit, and pointed to security concerns because a Chinese company has been granted a contract to build one of the projects.
The most prominent opponent of the mining is General Vo Nguyen Giap, 97, who led Vietnam's defeat of French colonial forces.
Vietnam News said the Politburo "appreciated the opinions and contributions" made by scientists and former senior leaders.
"The bauxite industry therefore must consider any socio-economic effects and preserve the ecological environment while protecting national security and defence," it said.
Authorities should consider the environmental impact, "otherwise it would cause severe damage which would require much work and expense to correct", the Politburo said.
Experts estimate thousands of Chinese will arrive for the bauxite projects and say several hundred are already in Lam Dong province, where the ground is being cleared for one mine.
The Politburo said foreign expertise "will be endorsed when necessary" although most workers will be Vietnamese, Vietnam News reported.
Critics have warned the mines will threaten the lifestyle of indigenous people in the area but the Politburo said "adequate attention" must be paid to improving the native residents' living conditions and preserving their cultural identity.