Fearing the loss of their water source, hundreds of villagers of the Jarai ethnic minority last week continued to block an Australian gold mining company from accessing a plot of land in Ratanakkiri’s Andong Meas district that is licensed for exploration.
Angkor Gold Company, which first attempted to explore the area in 2013, held several meetings with villagers earlier this year to try and ease tensions.
According to Klan Doeun, a 35-year-old community representative for the villages of Se Mlou, Kate and Bakham, some 135 families held banners decrying mining development and blocked access to a 1-square-kilometre plot of land the company wants to explore over environmental degradation concerns.
“We do not want the company to enter because it will affect our crops and natural resources.
The company might not understand about our community, so we are afraid of its presence,” he said, citing concerns of chemicals running into the local stream that villagers rely on for water.
“We use the water from the stream. It is alright if we are poor as long as we have natural resources and forest,” Doeun said.
The land in question is currently a mix of pasture, farms and community forest, and while Angkor Gold has assured villagers they will be compensated for damages, Doeun said a lack of understanding and knowledge is also driving opposition.
Ma Samath, a representative of Angkor Gold, said the company, local authorities and NGOs have met with community members in order provide information on the exploration project, which is licensed by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
“We have a licence from the ministry, but the people protest against us. The company and authorities discussed and explained many times to make them understand,” he said.
The company, which employs members of the community, has a policy “to prevent the human rights violations of [the villagers]”, Samath continued.
In late August, Angkor Gold filed a request for intervention with the ministry to resolve the matter. Ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said he was aware of the situation but has not yet seen the company’s written request.
“This case has happened for a long time . . . We wait to witness whether it filed [a request] or not,” he said, adding that ministry policy is to inspect the site and hold discussions to promote cooperation.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said that the protest occurred because the community has experienced previous land, forest and human rights abuses from companies operating on concessions in the area.