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Byline: Mark McDonald
CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK, Vietnam _ A new highway that will cover long stretches of the fabled Ho Chi Minh Trail will be nothing short of an ecological disaster for Vietnam, according to Vietnamese scientists and foreign conservationists.
A secret Ministry of Transport plan obtained by the Mercury News shows the 1,674-mile highway cutting through at least 10 parks and protected areas, including a five-mile stretch through Vietnam's first and most famous nature preserve, Cuc Phuong National Park.
The heavily forested sanctuary is home to five of the world's most endangered primate species, and new varieties of mammals, birds, insects and plants are discovered here at the park every year.
The massive construction project, which has already unearthed thousands of unexploded bombs, rockets and land mines from the Vietnam War, is also turning out to be politically explosive: For perhaps the first time ever in communist Vietnam, there has been an open and sometimes rancorous debate over an important national project.
The issue has become so controversial that a pair of government ministries has squared off against each other in a bitter public wrangle over the Cuc Phuong road.
"The discourse is fascinating, and there's a very, very political dimension to it," said Frank Momberg, Indochina director for the British conservation group Fauna & Flora International, which bankrolls a number of projects at Cuc Phuong. ""People are normally afraid to touch an issue like this in public, but lots of Vietnamese have voiced their opinions about Cuc Phuong.