An illegal gem mine in Ratanakkiri province’s Bakeo district claimed 10 lives last year but continues to operate unabated, an observer with the rights group Adhoc said yesterday.
Chhay Thy, Adhoc provincial coordinator in Ratanakkiri, said that the Ministry of Mines and Energy had visited the site in Bakeo district’s Laminh commune and instructed those working there to obtain the proper authorisation, but to little effect.
“The ministry has inspected it, and the ministry also educated the landlords and the people who wish to run a mine to get licence. We observed that some people got licences, but most of them did not get the licence, since their living conditions are modest and depend on the precious stone mining,” Thy said yesterday.
Thy added that word of the mining appeared to have been leaked by disgruntled miners because of a land dispute between those working the mines and the rubber plantation that owns the land.
One of the miners at the site, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he had worked there for about four months for a man named “Kong Se”.
While his boss had obtained the appropriate licence, he maintained, there were hundreds of other miners working the site illegally, usually under cover of darkness.
The Ratanakkiri provincial director of mines and energy could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Meng Saktheara, a spokesman with the Mines Ministry, said that in principle the ministry allows small-scale mining to take place, but practitioners must obtain a licence from local authorities.
“If they are Cambodians and legal landlords and they follow the law properly there will be no problem at all since the procedures are set up to help enable poor people to get licences like anyone else, because they are local people and the owners of the natural resources just like anyone,” he said.
However, he added, licences are still required, and small-scale operators are not allowed to be backed by big businesses or foreign nationals.
According to Saktheara, the fatal accident at the site last year occurred because a mine operator had failed to adhere to proper safety standards in an attempt to cut costs.
However, he said, it is difficult for authorities to address problems at the site, because most go unreported out of fear of a police crackdown on the mining operations.