THE Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy is seeking legal control over all of the
precious-stone industry in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Pailin.
The Secretary of State of the Industry Ministry, Nhep Bunchin, told the Post that
the draft law on the management and exploitation of mineral resources was approved
by the Council of Ministers on March 3.
He said if the draft law was approved by the National Assembly, all private companies
and individual hand-miners would need to be licensed by the ministry.
Currently Pailin governor Y Chien controls the industry.
Bunchin said the ministry wanted control to clean the anarchic state of mining in
the province, which is damaging the environment.
He said they also wanted to do research in the area to ascertain the amount of gems
left to be mined. He said it had been hard to obtain data about the number of gems
coming out of the province because most of them go across the border to Thailand.
Bunchin said the lack of proper mine management had led to problems with pollution
from drilling muds and chemicals as well as the physical damage to the environment
by the removal of top soil to get to the gem-bearing layers underneath.
In Sopheap, 55, a former Khmer Rouge diplomat, is backing the move, saying that Thai
companies were using excavators 24 hours a day to dig up the ground with scant regard
to the consequences.
"Around my house there is a lot of noise from the engines of excavators during
the day and night," he said.
"The canal near my house once flowed with clean water from the mountains, but
now it has disappeared.
"The water is now polluted and the river has changed from the mine waste dumped
Keut Sothea, Pailin's Second Deputy Governor, said the sapphire and ruby business
had dropped drastically in recent years so many residents were now turning to farming
to make a living.
He said they welcomed ministerial control over the industry, saying it was not generating
income for the province anyway.
Phnom Yat is now regarded as the last significant source of minerals in the province
and has been subject to constant rumors that rights to mine it would be sold to a
However Sothea denied that any deal had been done, saying that the people living
there had been asked to move and had spread the rumors out of spite.
He said the mountain was being kept for the good of the whole nation.