Following talks with indigenous villagers over the weekend, which saw promises of jobs and English language lessons, there are high hopes that a foreign company looking to extract gold in Ratanakkiri will be awarded the first-ever mining licence in the province.
Representatives of Mesco Gold met on Saturday with more than 20 ethnic Jarai villagers from O’yadav district’s Pak village, as well as local authorities and NGOs, to discuss plans to extract gold from the area.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc who attended the meeting, said the discussions were fruitful, with efforts made to allay fears from the local community that they will not be adequately compensated.
“Eighteen families with 26 hectares of land are affected by the company, but discussions for solutions [are taking place] in good spirit and understanding,” he said.
According to Thy, offers of English lessons and jobs with a monthly salary of $300 were floated during the meeting. Mesco also discussed plans to develop the area, and clean the water supply.
Despite the positive discussions, 42-year-old Sev Chen, who claims that more than half a hectare of his six-hectare plot of farming land stands to be affected, said he still had reservations about the project.
“The company has a package budget and promises to use it to develop our village step by step, but we are not sure yet whether they will do it for us or not,” he explained.
In 2013, Mesco Gold, an associated company of India-based Mesco Steel, bought the rights to mine the area from exploration firm Angkor Gold.
John-Paul Dau, country director of Angkor Gold Cambodia, said the companies were keen to “involve as many stakeholders as possible” in plans for the project.
Meng Saktheara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said “preliminary results” have indicated a reserve of about 1 million ounces of gold in the area.
He said he is hopeful that Mesco will be the first company in more than a year to be awarded a mining licence in Cambodia, and become a model for other companies looking into mineral extraction.
But, he said, a number of outstanding requirements still needed to be met, and any agreement would “first come down to the local community”.