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Gov’t prepares for mine standoff

A man digs for gold in Preah Vihear
A man digs for gold in Preah Vihear province earlier this year. The Ministry of Mines and Energy is continuing its crackdown on illegal mining across the Kingdom. Heng Chivoan

Gov’t prepares for mine standoff

Officials backed by a small detachment of gendarmerie seconded from the National Military Police are preparing for potentially violent confrontations with security forces employed by illegal mining companies, an official said yesterday.

Meng Saktheara, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, yesterday told the Post that the ministry had issued an ultimatum to a company in Mondulkiri province – which could not be named because of the sensitivity of the negotiations – giving it a deadline to comply with a request to shut down operations.

“There is one place, a very dangerous place in Mondulkiri, where we are going to use the military police to crack down. That will be a very tough measure, very soon,” he said. “It’s going to be war. I really think it’s going to be war.”

The comments come amid an ongoing clampdown on illegal miners that began in late 2014. In recent weeks, three groups of officials have toured 10 provinces and agreed with the military police to attach up to 12 armed guards to the delegations.

While many small-scale artisanal miners had willingly cooperated with the ministry, some companies were proving more difficult to work with, he added.

“There are a lot of people who … cooperate with us, but there are a few who do not cooperate so much. They are people who are backed by powerful people or rich people, and it’s very hard to deal with them.

“In the area I am responsible for, in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri [provinces], there are two cases that we are filing documents to the court [about],” he said.

Facing threats from mining interests, Saktheara said the ministry had assembled a team of lawyers who would accompany officials on future visits to the sites. Two companies have already been identified as being in breach of the law and will be taken to court.

“We have prepared a legal team from the ministry … to go down and use this strong legal enforcement,” he said.

On illegal sand dredging, Saktheara said that Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem had “initiated talks with the minister of water resources to find a way to deal with this situation”.

“We still insist that all sand miners will have to suspend operations. There is no excuse. Again, this is also very tough. A lot of people who are basically poor people, they respect the law. But some big guys and opportunists are still pumping for profits,” he said.

Kim Natacha, executive director of Cambodians for Revenue Resource Transparency, said the moves against illegal mining were positive, but officials should be wary about using armed security in mining areas.

“We are glad to see the ministry is taking steps towards enforcing the laws and regulations in this sector,” she said.

“However, we believe that military police force should only be used as a deterrent and as a last resort against serious risks to ensure the safety of ministry and local officials in their duties, as well as the surrounding local communities.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY

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