NGO Forum in Cambodia says protected areas are under increasing threat from largely unregulated companies
A map supplied by the umbrella rights group NGO Forum on Cambodia demarcates what it said are mining concessions granted to Korean company Kenertec, as well as areas under the control of the Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Administration.
ABOUT half of the nation's protected areas are threatened by secretive and potentially destructive mining concessions granted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, according to a report by Cambodia's largest NGO umbrella group.
Titled "Environmental and Social Impacts of the Extractive Industries Sector", the draft report by the NGO Forum on Cambodia paints a bleak picture of corruption, land-grabbing and environmental destruction in one of the country's fastest-growing sectors.
"The granting of [mining] concessions is proceeding at an alarming rate across Cambodia. However, almost no information has been made publicly available by the relevant ministries, or by the companies themselves," said the report, made public Tuesday.
The mining sector has expanded rapidly, but very little information on its operations is available from the government or most mining companies.
"Getting information on mines in Cambodia is almost impossible.... The way that licenses are allocated is almost a joke. Most of the maps [the government] uses are from the 1970s," said a Cambodia-based conservationist who asked not to be named.
However, the conservationist and other business sources agree that small companies are responsible for most of the problems and that large companies, such as BHP Billiton, Southern Gold and Oz Minerals, have high environmental and social standards.
Some larger companies like bhp and southern mining are doing a good job ... but a lot of the smaller ones are totally unconcerned.
"Some larger companies like BHP and Southern Mining are doing a good job in terms of treatment of the environment and transparency, but a lot of the smaller ones are totally unconcerned about these things," the conservationist said.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy has refused to publicise the names, locations or sizes of mining concessions, but records obtained by the Post show that 67 companies have been permitted to explore 95 sites nationwide.
No figures were available on total mining investment in Cambodia. The ministries of mines and energy and environment would not comment on issues raised in the report.
Some of Cambodia's most sensitive protected areas have been divvied up to mining companies, says the report, including 54 percent of Virachey National Park conceded to Australia's Indochine Resources, and an unnamed sand-dredging operation in Koh Kong that is operating in a protected estuary.
It found that concessions have been issued on about 50 percent of Cambodia's protected areas, which covers about one-quarter of the country's landmass.
Concessions are often granted without environmental oversight, making it difficult to assess their impact. "Without access to the relevant [environmental impact studies], it is not possible to assess the potential impact and to what extent mitigation measures proposed by the companies are adequate," the report said.
Land rights are also under threat, said the report, with increasing "militarisation" of mine sites. It documents two communes in Preah Vihear and one in Mondulkiri where residents have been told to vacate their lands without compensation.
Some companies are blamed for forced evictions and armed threats against conservation staff, watchdogs say.
The country representative for Conservation International, while pointing out he had not seen the report, said that transparency remains a serious problem in mining.
"Frankly, finding out information about mining, especially where Chinese companies are concerned, is not easy," Bunra Seng said.
A local business leader agreed that Cambodia lacks an adequate legal framework for mining, but said that not all companies are to blame.
"Mining is a new thing in Cambodia, and the government doesn't really know how to regulate it.... A lot of the smaller companies, especially companies from Korea, have to be doing more to bring themselves up to standard."
NGO Forum on Cambodia held a news conference on mining Tuesday, but panelists said they were not qualified to speak about the sector.
NGO Forum program adviser Megan MacInnes was not available for comment and did not attend the conference.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THET SAMBATH