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Gem brokers told to quit it

People search for gems in Ratanakkiri’s Bakeo district
People search for gems in Ratanakkiri’s Bakeo district last week. Authorities are trying to crack down on unlicensed gem mining. ADHOC

Gem brokers told to quit it

Authorities in Ratanakkiri province’s Bakeo district are cracking down on illegal gem-mining operations, according to a rights worker and local official.

Chhay Thy, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, said homeowners had reported thousands of illegal gem-mining activities in the area.

Thy said that gem brokers, whose identities were unknown, had hired people to dig illegally on land owned by others.

The brokers have allegedly also paid more than $10,000 for the rights to dig up one hectare of private land within the district, villagers reported.

“We went to investigate and take pictures – there were thousands of mining activities [holes in the ground]. We are calling for the authorities to investigate this issue,” Thy said.

Local villager, Sovat Dy, 31, said that while gem digging is a tradition for the people of Bakeo district, the illegal operations have been rampant – resulting in thousands of holes up to 10 metres deep.

“If we dig a whole day – from morning to evening – we could receive 5,000 riel ($1.25 to 10 thousand riel). But if we find a good gem, we could get more than . . . 30,000 riel,” Dy said.

Heng Bunny, Bakeo district governor, said illegal gem brokers have been ordered to cease operations immediately and apply to the Ministry of Mines and Energy for appropriate licences.

Hun Bun Than, a director at the ministry’s provincial office in Ratanakkiri, said citizens with land ownership titles have the right to dig mines up to five metres deep on their own land. But if the holes are any deeper, then the necessary permits are required, he said.

People found to be breaching the rules face fines of 50,000 to two million riel, and even prison time.

“We are checking the digs, but the first step is to stop the action,” Bun Than said.

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