Kampong Thom provincial governor Nguon Ratanak has sent officials to investigate reports of illegal gold mining in several locations around the Snong Orn Stung Damrey area of Sochetr commune in Sandan district.
Savy, a 45-year-old gold miner in the district’s Chheuteal commune, told The Post on April 11 that he and his 38-year-old wife Sokhom have been mining gold in the area around the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary for the past three months.
He said the area has numerous active gold mines and more than 100 miners working in them from Sandan district and others from provinces in the northeast and central parts of Cambodia.
“I do not know if the owners of these gold mines have permits or not, but there are a lot of gold mines here. They only come to the province every two weeks to buy us food and fuel as well as the chemicals used to extract the gold from the rocks,” he said.
Savy added that on average the gold miners there earn roughly 900,000 riel ($225) a month, but the costs for food and accommodations are also covered by the owners of each gold mine.
A woman in the district’s Sochetr commune who prefers to remain anonymous told The Post that she herself had run a small family-owned gold mine with just three workers. She purchased soil from a mine owner to filter it and extract any gold present but she did not own a mining site like some others.
“All the small-size gold mining businesses in my commune are unlicensed, including those who do ore businesses which can employ up to 20 workers,” she said.
However, she said that she and all of the other people involved in the gold trade in the area have paid some officials between 50,000 and 500,000 riel ($12.50 and $125) in order to be allowed to operate, depending on the size of the business.
The money is paid specifically in exchange for the officials to ignore the illegal mining and to forego reporting the activity to provincial and national-level officials.
“In fact, our businesses just make ends meet. We’re not really becoming rich at all. If they are large-size gold ore businesspeople, then they could get rich in this business. But they also spend a lot of capital per mining site. They might spend up to $100,000 on their mining operation. Most of them are already well-connected,” she said.
Noem Chantha, director of the provincial Department of Mines and Energy, could not be reached for comment on April 12.
Another official from Kampong Thom province told The Post on April 10 on condition of anonymity that a company named K88 was studying the environmental impact of the gold mining sector in the province, particularly focusing on the mining areas where the villagers are doing small-scale mining as family business.
“These illegal gold mining activities by the villagers may be shut down soon, because – in addition to the toxic chemicals draining into streams feeding the river – the locations of the illegal gold mining areas are part of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.
Provincial Department of Environment spokesman Tob Kakada said he was busy and could not comment on the situation at this time.
Provincial governor Nguon Ratanak stated that illegal mining must be banned.
“I received information about the ongoing illegal gold mining businesses in this particular geographical area and I’ve sent officials from the relevant departments to investigate the situation and put a stop to all illegal business activities. We cannot permit these crimes to occur,” he said.