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Titanium-mining group keeps company data under wraps

The head of United Khmer Group yesterday declined to disclose the names of “public” investors in a titanium mine he has said contains US$35 billion to $135 billion worth of deposits and refused to confirm the sums they had invested.

On Monday Chea Chet said public traders with more than 42 years of experience would provide the expertise to process ilmenite, an iron-titanium oxide used to produce titanium slag, at a 20,400 hectare site in Koh Kong province and ensure environmental protection procedures were implemented to safeguard the surrounding forests.

“These people, they are public traders. They come from offshore, they invest a lot of money and they already have a plan,” he said.

“So no matter what [opponents of the mine] try to do, it’s not going to stop our company or our government because we’ve prepared for the benefit and we prepare for the [environmental] effects.”

Yesterday Chea Chet also rebutted recent claims by officials and conservationists that his company had yet to commence exploration of the site, saying they had already started drilling but declined to produce a copy of the feasibility study.

“We’ve taken only 10 metres – it requires special tools like the other forms of mining; this one is only the surface, zero metres to 10 metres deep, so it is not that difficult,” he said yesterday, though he declined to confirm the precise location of the site.

But the conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance has provided a map which purportedly shows that the location of the concession precisely matches the coordinates of an earlier mining concession, one explored by the company Omsaura.

Omsaura’s feasibility study, conducted in June 2005, concluded that significantly lower amounts of ilmenite were likely to be found than United Khmer Group have claimed – just under 2.5 million as opposed to Chea Chet’s figure of 120 million tonnes.

Sowanna Gauntlett, country director of Wildlife Alliance, said yesterday that since 2002, eight companies had come to make studies of the site, but that none had commenced exploitation of the site. Gauntlett called for United Khmer Group to publish its findings.

“Right now, we finally discovered this is only an exploration permit.

“There are no findings yet, and if the company does have findings, then why don’t they publish it,” she said.

“And if they have big plans for that area, we need to be informed because we have big projects in eco-tourism and REDD sinks.”

Reduced Emissions From Deforestation permits allow heavily polluting companies in developed countries to offset atmospheric carbon emissions by paying for the protection of forests, which process the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen.

Gauntlett has previously said that the 144,000-hectare area of protected forest, worth between US$48 and $85 million, according to preliminary studies, would be doomed by the construction of a nearby mine.

Chea Chet’s estimation of the value of the deposits, which he puts at between $700 and $2,500 per tonne once processed into titanium slag, does not factor in capital expenditure required to process ore.

The highest price for titanium slag in China last month was US$670 per tonne.

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