The Ministry of Mines and Energy is conducting a campaign to shut down illegal gold mining operations in Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district. 

According to a January 10 announcement by the ministry, the area in Choam Tamao commune’s Sampov Loun village has been home to several family-owned gold mining operations since the 1990s, with local people digging and refining gold by hand on a limited scale.

In recent years, however, there has been a move from simple hand tools to the use of explosives and heavy chemicals, with deep tunnels being dug in some places.

Having observed serious threats to the environment, as well as people’s health and safety, the ministry said it has collaborated with the Tbong Khmum provincial mines department and local authorities to conduct outreach programmes and take legal action against large-scale excavation activities.

“Between September 2021 and November 2023, the provincial administration established a working group tasked with disseminating the law to the public. It also pursued legal action against large mines, under the order of the provincial court’s deputy prosecutor,” it said.

Despite this, it noted, illegal mining is still taking place, with some operations even using modern equipment, chemicals and explosives to break rocks and mining underground dangerously. 

These activities cause the loss of national income, seriously affect the environment and pose a significant risk to the health and safety of the miners and the people living in the area, it said.

Heng Kimhong, head of the Cambodian Youth Network’s (CYN) research and advocacy programme, sees the ministry’s action as an excellent move, noting that it is important to protect the sustainability of the Kingdom’s natural resources, as well as the environment and local residents.

He stressed that the authorities must identify the people behind the illegal mining businesses, saying it is uncommon for small-scale operators to find the capital to carry out larger mining activities.

“I request that law enforcement agencies find out who is behind the illegal mines. If we cannot identify them, then cracking down on the sites themselves may not be effective,” he said.

The ministry reiterated its commitment to ending all unregistered mining activities and promoting legal mining.

It highlighted that legal mining protects the national interests, creates on-site and indirect job opportunities, generates additional national income, eliminates serious impacts on the environment and contributes to the development of local communities.

The ministry called on the public to report any illegal mining activity by calling 095 727 727.