Prime Minister Hun Manet has designated the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary as a “red zone”, meaning he will not allow new any mining licences to be issued for the area, and would not allow the expansion of existing operations.

The decision was announced as Minister of Mines and Energy Keo Rattanak addressed the November 21 “Mines and Energy Policies in Cambodia” forum, held by the Club of Cambodian Journalists, in collaboration mines ministry.

Rattanak informed the attendees that he had submitted a request to Manet on November 2, asking for his approval to ban the expansion of gold mining in the sanctuary.

“The prime minister agreed to the request on the same day, designating the sanctuary a red zone,” he said.

“He will not allow the granting of any kind of mine resource licence, with the exception of two that were granted by the previous mandate. They will not be able to expand their area of operations,” he added.

He noted that since 2008, 13 companies – from Cambodia, China and Japan – have conducted explorations in the Prey Lang area.

He said that of the 13, three in Kampong Thom province were licensed to prospect for gold. Seven in Kratie province were still conducting studies, while two in Preah Vihear province and one in Stung Treng province are prospecting for mines. 

Heng Kimhong, research and advocacy programme manager at the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), lauded the decision, saying that as someone who works in the Prey Lang area, he was elated with the decision. He requested that the ministry monitor the existing operations closely.

“In my opinion, the ministry should strictly implement the decision. If the licensed companies in Prey Lang increase their activities in secret, they must be held accountable before the law,” he said.

He added that the Ministry should work closely with environmental rangers to curb illegal mining and the use of chemicals in protected areas, especially the Prey Lang sanctuary, as the chemicals used in mining are extremely harmful to biodiversity and wildlife.

“We need to curb any activity that is against the law. They should conduct regular audits of local inspection officials to ensure they are not involved with activities that harm the wildlife sanctuary, such as illegal mining,” he continued.