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Titanium terminator

Prime Minister Hun Sen has nixed a controversial titanium mine in Koh Kong province over its potential impact on the environment and local people, reversing his earlier decision and earning praise from conservationists.

The premier halted plans for the mine, set for a 20,400-hectare concession in Thmar Bang district’s Chi Phat commune, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Friday, according to a press statement.

“Due to concern about the impact on the environment and biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of the people … Hun Sen banned the titanium mine exploitation located in Koh Kong province,” the statement said.

Hun Sen had approved mining rights for the United Khmer Group’s scheme on February 1, following a letter endorsing the proposal and dated the same day from Suy Sem, Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy.

The letter stated that United Khmer Group said last April it had found ilmenite, a source of titanium dioxide, within 10 metres of the surface across an area of 4,400 hectares that could produce 35 million tonnes of titanium concentrate.

However Pech Siyon, director of the provincial office of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy in Koh Kong, said yesterday that no significant amount of titanium had been found, contradicting company reports.

“I think after the examination there is not much titanium. That is why the government does not allow [the mine to go forward],” Pech Siyon said.

“I think we better keep the forest for eco-tourism, because people want to view the forest.” He said United Khmer Group had built a road and had been taking samples from the area.

United States-based conservation group Wildlife Alliance led a campaign against the mine, which it said would devastate an elephant corridor, degrade the forest and threaten its eco-tourism project in Chi Phat.

John Maloy, Wildlife Alliance spokesman, said yesterday he was “surprised” and “ecstatic” at the news.

“It’s exactly what we’ve been fighting for since the beginning and we’re thrilled that the government and the prime minister decided to look into the impacts [on the environment and local community],” he said.

Maloy said the Wildlife Alliance-operated eco-tourism project was “very successful” and would only become more so with the mine out of the way.

Duy Thouv, deputy secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said yesterday he had led an inter-ministerial committee to study the United Khmer Group proposal, but the company had bypassed the CDC and appealed to Hun Sen directly.

United Khmer Group Chief Executive Officer Chea Chet was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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