A Preah Vihear provincial joint force has cracked down on seven illegal mining sites in Romdeng village in Rovieng district's Romtom commune and shut down five of the locations while preparing to send two cases to court.
Provincial Department of Mines and Energy director You Chendayuth said that between February 13 and 16, a joint force, including officials from the National Military Police, the court and other relevant authorities, raided seven mines on 12.62ha for operating illegally.
They found a lot of evidence of mining operations, including stores of explosive powder, mineral and gold mining equipment, labs containing unknown chemical substances, staff facilities and other related items.
Authorities have examined sites and made contracts with the mine owners a few times already, obtaining promises to stop the illegal mining, Chendayuth said, but the miners have defied the orders and continued to operate unlicensed, believing they are allowed to because they are only running a family-scale business.
The site owners have now been ordered to temporarily halt activities.
The authorities are preparing court documents regarding two mine owners who did not cooperate but instead escaped the area. The other five owners will be punished in accordance with the law and ordered to apply for licenses to operate officially.
The two sites whose bosses fled are the largest operations. The owners locked the doors before fleeing, but officials broke the doors down and confiscated evidence, while some items were set on fire.
“We have not charged them yet and are waiting for the court to take action, but we don't know when to send the cases to court,” Chendayuth said.
Yos Monirath, the director-general of the General Department of Mineral Resources at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said he could not comment on the case because the department had only produced an internal report while the relevant authorities discussed with the prosecutor on what further action to take.
“So, I cannot give you any more information, but we can confirm that we went down there to examine and crack down on the illegal operations."
“The cases are different. Some cases have a license, but [the owners] did not follow the law properly, and the rest were operating illegally,” he said.
Lor Chann, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that most of the illegal mines in Preah Vihear are in Rovieng district, noting that some trader groups and companies operating there do not have licenses.
In some cases, he said, it seems there is collusion that is enabling the owners to operate without a license. Authorities cracked down on them a few months ago, after they had been operating for many years, he said.
“Even though there are mine explorations and operations, the relevant authorities do not always take serious legal action."
“I used to go there and see Vietnamese, Chinese and Cambodian operators and traders. Some mountains are nearly destroyed due to the mining operations and it is causing [negative] effects,” Chann said.
Chendayuth said that on January 15, authorities also inspected and dismantled some 10 mining sites in the same area for operating illegally.