Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai miners double in past year

Thai miners double in past year

Thai miners double in past year

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

Rouge.

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

Battambang.

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.

Like the

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.

Fish were

poisoned or fled to other rivers because their food and habitat were coated with

mud.

Touch Sarin, in charge of Battambang water supplies, said water from

the Sangke was no longer fit for drinking or washing unless filtered.

The

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

local rivers.

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

season.

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

pace.

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

and powerful".

He welcomed the government's ban on logging, which came

into effect on January 1, but said the "implementation of that policy is another

thing".

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