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Phnom Penh eyes Pailin gems

Phnom Penh eyes Pailin gems

THE Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy is seeking legal control over all of the

precious-stone industry in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Pailin.

The Secretary of State of the Industry Ministry, Nhep Bunchin, told the Post that

the draft law on the management and exploitation of mineral resources was approved

by the Council of Ministers on March 3.

He said if the draft law was approved by the National Assembly, all private companies

and individual hand-miners would need to be licensed by the ministry.

Currently Pailin governor Y Chien controls the industry.

Bunchin said the ministry wanted control to clean the anarchic state of mining in

the province, which is damaging the environment.

He said they also wanted to do research in the area to ascertain the amount of gems

left to be mined. He said it had been hard to obtain data about the number of gems

coming out of the province because most of them go across the border to Thailand.

Bunchin said the lack of proper mine management had led to problems with pollution

from drilling muds and chemicals as well as the physical damage to the environment

by the removal of top soil to get to the gem-bearing layers underneath.

In Sopheap, 55, a former Khmer Rouge diplomat, is backing the move, saying that Thai

companies were using excavators 24 hours a day to dig up the ground with scant regard

to the consequences.

"Around my house there is a lot of noise from the engines of excavators during

the day and night," he said.

"The canal near my house once flowed with clean water from the mountains, but

now it has disappeared.

"The water is now polluted and the river has changed from the mine waste dumped

there."

Keut Sothea, Pailin's Second Deputy Governor, said the sapphire and ruby business

had dropped drastically in recent years so many residents were now turning to farming

to make a living.

He said they welcomed ministerial control over the industry, saying it was not generating

income for the province anyway.

Phnom Yat is now regarded as the last significant source of minerals in the province

and has been subject to constant rumors that rights to mine it would be sold to a

Thai company.

However Sothea denied that any deal had been done, saying that the people living

there had been asked to move and had spread the rumors out of spite.

He said the mountain was being kept for the good of the whole nation.

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