BATTAMBANG provincial military police have arrested five men in connection with an illegal gold and gem mining operation in Samlot district, with police officials still on the hunt for the illegal business’s owner.
Provincial court prosecutor Koy Kannya said yesterday that the five men were arrested on Sunday after cooperative efforts with provincial military police.
He said authorities raided the five suspects’ house in Samlot commune’s Kontout village and confiscated a machine used for mining, as well as several tubs and baskets.
“We cracked down on them after we reported it to military police,” he said. “We just arrested five workers, but the owner was not at the house.”
He added that officials had yet to identify the person financially backing the illegal mines, but said that military police were still questioning the five suspects about their boss.
Samlot district governor Hen Sophal said yesterday that he, too, did not know the identity of the owner, but stressed that those arrested had attempted to open illegal mines in recent months.
“It is a very small group,” he said. “They had made the mines in secret.”
Koy Kannya said the five suspects were still being detained at military police headquarters in Battambang province, and were still being questioned.
“I have not charged them yet because I need more evidence from military police,” he said.
But provincial military police commander Por Vannak said he had asked Koy Kannya to release the suspects after “educating” them, because the identity of their employer remains unknown.
“We have no strong evidence to charge them, and they just worked for other people so they should just be educated,” he said.
“When we asked the workers, they did not know who their boss was or where he was living. This is a problem for our investigation.”
Officials from the Battambang provincial department of Industry, Mines and Energy could not be reached for comment yesterday.