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Villagers protest mine plan

Villagers protest mine plan

HUNDREDS of villagers and local officials have thumbprinted a petition protesting against a planned titanium mine in Koh Kong province, and plan to pass the document on to Prime Minister Hun Sen through local officials on Monday.

The petition, which has been signed by the chief of Chi Phat commune, four village chiefs and about 500 villagers, will today be handed to the Forestry Administration’s chief coastal inspector, Vann Sophanna, who has also voiced opposition to the project.

Penned by conservation group Wildlife Alliance, the petition argues that the mine – expected to extract a million tonnes of titanium ore – will drive away ecotourism revenue and ruin the area’s biodiversity through water pollution and deforestation.

“All mining is done with water, and this will basically poison the waterways and ruin the fish population, and of course it will poison the people, animals and kill ecotourism,” Suwanna Gauntlett, the country director of Wildlife Alliance, said yesterday.

At a community meeting and inspection of the site earlier this week, Vann Sophanna said he personally opposed the mine because its planned location overlapped with 144,000 hectares of protected forest and would impact local ecotourism projects.

“We need to keep this forest cover green, so we will report the worst negative impacts and explain them to the inter-ministerial committee so they can balance the interests of preserving natural resources and the benefits of the mining exploitation,” he said.

He added that the final decision rested with the prime minister, who he hoped would support the concerns expressed in the petition.

Neither the developer of the mine, United Khmer Group, nor relevant government ministries could be reached for comment yesterday.

According to Wildlife Alliance, United Khmer communicated on June 10 that it company would construct a quarry of between 20 and 200 metres in depth over a 15,000-to-20,000 hectare area to extract high-grade titanium.

If successful, the company said, Chinese companies would then construct another three or four mines covering an area of about 100,000 hectares in Koh Kong in addition to the first mine.

Consensus Economics, a macroeconomic survey firm, forecast in late 2009 that in June of this year titanium ilmenite ore would be worth US$95 per metric tonne, meaning the mine could contain deposits worth around $95 million.

But Vann Sophanna said the mine would also doom a potentially valuable carbon sink established under the UN and World Bank-backed Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme.

A preliminary survey by Wildlife Alliance and the Forestry Administration estimated such a scheme could be worth between $1.8 and 2.8 million per year in revenue to the government.

Under the REDD scheme, polluting companies in developed countries would pay the Cambodian government to protect 200,000 hectares of forest in Koh Kong to offset their own carbon emissions, with 40 percent of the revenue going back to the local community.

The mine area also intersects one of only seven remaining elephant corridors in Asia and is listed by Conservation International as one of 34 global biodiversity “hot spots”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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