Officials are looking for a group of illegal gem miners after discovering and destroying a month-old camp deep in a protected area supported by the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP) on Wednesday.
Five patrollers, including an MJP ranger, found the illegal mining hideout in Pailin’s Samlot protected area, according to the ranger Chan Socheat.
The area is over 600,000 hectares and is protected by royal decree. It is a joint preservation project of the Ministry of Environment and actress Angelina Jolie’s foundation.
“We did not see the miners; they had escaped before our arrival. We saw only tent camps and seized 170 animal traps in the forest,” Socheat said.
Socheat said the team found axes, machetes, dishes, clothes and the remains of wild animals eaten at the camp.
The patrollers dismantled the makeshift living quarters and burned the materials.
“According to what we saw, there were about six or seven miners there for about a month,” Socheat said.
He explained that this region of Samlot has many precious gems and has been a site of illegal mining since the Khmer Rouge era.
Kim Sokha, Pailin provincial environment department director, said the miners were locals working for larger-scale gem traders, and may have been tipped off that authorities were approaching.
“When we went there, they knew we were coming, so they fled. They were told on the phone and they managed to escape,” he said.
Sokha said officials are searching for the miners and the traders supporting them.