Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pailin find sparks ‘gem rush’



Pailin find sparks ‘gem rush’

One of the men who has rented a tiny plot of land from a Pailin province farmer to mine for precious stones is seen panning for gems in an undated photo. Photo supplied
One of the men who has rented a tiny plot of land from a Pailin province farmer to mine for precious stones is seen panning for gems in an undated photo. Photo supplied

Pailin find sparks ‘gem rush’

An indebted farmer in Pailin province may have struck it rich after local villagers and police extracted precious stones allegedly worth up to $70,000 each from his 40-metre-by-100-metre property.

Chou Thy, 63, and his wife were $5,000 in debt to a microfinance institution after a recent drought destroyed their farm’s crops and made it impossible to sell corn and cassava. But their luck changed when, several weeks ago, neighbours discovered precious gems in the soil on their property in Pailin’s Sala Krao district. The couple decided to rent the land to neighbours who wanted to mine for gems and use the money to pay off their debt.

“I was worried about not being able to pay back my loan, but suddenly my neighbour asked if he could mine my soil for $20 per cubic metre,” Thy said, adding that his family is very poor and that he and his wife have 14 children – 10 of whom are unmarried and still dependent.

The family had been tilling the soil for years and had never found precious stones, he added. Thy’s neighbour, Chhorn Kea, 32, said that he decided to mine the property after discovering a purple stone worth $500 as he walked across the land. But Kea’s activities sparked a wave of excitement through the neighbourhood, prompting a mini gem rush.

“After I continuously found stones, other villagers and the police found out and also began to rent the land and mine for stones,” Kea said. “Someone found a good stone worth $70,000.”

Kong Norn, deputy police chief of Sala Krao district, said he rented 10 cubic metres of Thy’s land and found a huge stone, but it was only worth $1,800 because it was covered in cracks.

“So far, I’ve only mined around 3 cubic metres out of the 10 that I rented, so I hope I will find another good stone in the rest of the soil,” he said.Hoem Koeun, an official at the provincial police station, was the lucky neighbour who found the purported $70,000 stone, Norn added.

Koeun said yesterday that he had yet to sell the gem, but boasted, “My stone is seven carats.”

Despite the profitability of the flurry of activity, farm owner Thy said now that he’s paid off his debt, he and his family will stop renting the land to neighbours and will begin mining it themselves.

Pailin province is historically known for its precious gems and periodic illegal mining activity, and officials from the provincial Department of Mines and Energy paid a visit to inspect the site on Monday.

But Van Sira Ne, director of the department, said the activities on Thy’s property would not be banned as they are happening on a small scale on private land and not impacting the environment.

Meanwhile, Thy said he and his children have already found stones they believe are worth thousands of dollars. Nevertheless, he said they are not ready to give up their old way of life.

“I did not tell my children to quit farming,” he confirmed.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year