The Ministry of Mines and Energy has identified three illegal gold mining operations in Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district. The owners have been instructed to dismantle their facilities and cease their activities immediately.

A January 17 announcement by the ministry said the discoveries in Choam Tamao commune’s Sampov Loun village were part of a large-scale campaign to crack down on illegal mining. The campaign was launched on January 10.

The ministry’s efforts have been welcomed by local communities, with many members of the public coming forward to provide information about illegal gold mining businesses.

“On January 16, acting on information they had received, ministry officials uncovered three illegal mines in Memot district. The officials asked the owners to voluntarily dismantle their operations and sign contracts to cease their activities,” said the notice.

“The ministry is committed to ending all illegal mining activities. Legal mining brings many national benefits, including the creation of on-site job opportunities and indirect contributions to creating additional sources of national budget revenue. Sustainable mining, with the support and protection of the law, helps to eliminate serious environmental and social impacts, while contributing to the development of local communities,” it added.

Heng Kimhong, head of research and advocacy at the Cambodia Youth Network (CYN), noted that the ministry has shut down several similar operations in the past week or so, indicating that illegal mining may be widespread.

“My concern is that we cannot be sure how long this has been going on, or how many more mines there might be. If this continues, it will affect the environment, cost the Kingdom national income and pose risks to public health,” he said.

“The authorities must set the goal of enforcing the law regularly, rather than having the occasional crackdown or waiting for complaints from the public.

He believes that without strict enforcement, illegal mining activities will continue.

Kimhong urged the authorities to identify those behind the illegal mining businesses, saying it is uncommon for small-scale operators to find the capital to carry out larger mining activity.

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

According to a January 10 notice by the ministry, the area 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. The January 10 notice warned of legal action against unauthorised mining activity.