BATTAMBANG - The number of Thai companies working with the Khmer Rouge to
exploit gems around Pailin has more than doubled since early last year,
Battambang provincial officials say.
Chhay Yuob, chief of the province's
Environmental Service, said that when government forces seized Pailin in March
last year, there had been six Thai mining companies working with the Khmer
There were now 16 firms involved, after 10 new ones were granted
mining concessions by the KR, he said.
His comments - which appear to be
at odds with Thai government assurances that it is cracking down on border trade
in KR-occupied areas - were supported by a vice-governor of
Chhay Yuob said the Khmer Rouge had expanded its gem mining
into Dambon Bor Larn (Truck Driving Area) north of Pailin and were using Bavel
River to sift through mounds of excavated soil to find gems.
nearby Sangke River, which had already suffered from similar use by the KR,
Bavel River faced serious environmental damage.
The build-up of silt from
the KR's activities threatened to affect fish life and reduce the depth of the
river, as had happened with the Sangke.
"The Sangke used to be called
'Stung Khieu' [the Blue River] but now it is red," he said.
poisoned or fled to other rivers because their food and habitat were coated with
Touch Sarin, in charge of Battambang water supplies, said water from
the Sangke was no longer fit for drinking or washing unless filtered.
provincial capital's filtering system often became clogged because of how muddy
the water was.
Those people without access to the provincial capital's
filtered water supplies had to rely on wells.
Dr Seng Oeurm, the
Secretary of State for the Environment, said the KR's mining was also causing
dangerously-high levels of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iodine in
Billions of cubic meters of muddy water flowing southwards,
meanwhile, was raising sediment levels in the Tonle Sap Lake, making it as
shallow as 1-2 meters in the dry season and 13-14 meters in the rainy
The KR's destruction of forests - by commercial logging, as well
as the clearing of trees to allow gem-mining - was continuing at a rapid
A lack of tree cover in northwestern Cambodia made the countryside
more vulnerable to flooding.
Ly Thuch, Under-Secretary of State for the
Environment, told the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh on January 11
that "the main destroyers of the environment are the Khmer Rouge and the rich
He welcomed the government's ban on logging, which came
into effect on January 1, but said the "implementation of that policy is another