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No boon from mines: survey

Indigenous residents of two small eastern villages have only slightly benefited from recent mining activity, while the work of foreign-owned companies potentially threatens their livelihoods, according to development watchdogs.

Only a handful of 71 ethnic Bunong families surveyed in Mondulkiri province's Gati and Pou Rapeth villages directly benefited from the mining operations, according to a survey by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.

"In both villages, only a few of the indigenous people have been employed by the mining companies," Chen Sochoeun, a researcher with the NGO, said Thursday at a Phnom Penh forum examining development in Cambodia. "Similarly, few indigenous villagers were involved in work to support the mining activities, such as selling food and other goods to the miners."

The forest-dependent villagers identified major impacts including the destruction of resin trees and negative effects on hunting and fishing.

"The mining activities in the two villages pose a potential threat to Bunong livelihoods largely reliant on natural resources," Chen Sochoeun said, adding that the villagers never consented to the mining operations.

Chinese-owned Hai Lan Mineral Company and Vietnamese-owned Gold Metal have been operating in Gati and Pou Rapeth, respectively, since 2006.

A government official acknowledged Thursday that the villagers were not consulted before the mining companies moved in, but Kong Piseth, director of the Industry, Mines and Energy Department in Mondulkiri, insists the villagers will eventually benefit from the mining.

"All of the companies are exploring for minerals, not in the stage of mining, so they do not need many labourers yet," Kong Piseth said. "I believe that it will directly and indirectly benefit local resident when those companies begin mining."

Kong Piseth said there were roughly 13 companies exploring in the province. The Post was unable to contact representatives of the mining companies involved for comment.

The NGO Refugees International has identified the Bunong, who number some 30,000 people in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam border highlands, as a threatened group whose traditions are "under siege".

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