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Villagers wary of M’kiri mine project

Officials in Phnom Penh last week discuss the impacts of mining near the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri. Photo supplied
Officials in Phnom Penh last week discuss the impacts of mining near the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri. Photo supplied

Villagers wary of M’kiri mine project

An environmental impact assessment released on Friday for a $245 million mining project slated to begin operations in Mondolkiri province next year has raised concerns about its potential effects on the environment and local communities.

The project, proposed by the Chinese-owned Alex Corporation, would see a bauxite mine established on the border of the Keo Seima protected area.

Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman Meng Saktheara said yesterday that if the project were to be approved, the mine’s output would then be moved by either rail or pipeline more than 500 kilometres to a processing plant in Sihanoukville, where a power station may be constructed to provide electricity to the plant.

However, Saktheara noted that the project was a long way from receiving government approval, including from the Ministry of Environment, which is currently reviewing the recently completed EIA.

“Nothing is definitive yet, the government has not approved the project or said anything about the project yet,” Saktheara said, later adding that he believed the Environment Ministry was working with the company to reduce the project’s potential negative impacts.

Environment Ministry spokespeople declined to comment on the project yesterday. But a statement published on the ministry’s Facebook page said it used a meeting about the EIA on Friday to raise concerns about potential issues concerning water contamination, landslides, dam collapses, worker health and safety issues and the restoration of the affected land after the 33-year project has run its course.

Research for the EIA took place over the course of six months earlier this year, and involved individual and group interviews with members of affected communities, the majority of whom belong to the indigenous Phnong community.

It found that 90 percent of interviewed community members believed that the project would have a negative impact on their livelihoods, land, communities and the country as a whole.

Kvan Trel, 44, who is commune chief of Sen Monorom, said yesterday that three villages under her purview will be affected by the project if it goes ahead. She said villagers were fearful for their land, as well as the safety of their livestock and families.

“[Alex Corporation] said they will not disturb the forest, and regarding land, they said that if the people don’t allow them to, they will not dig, to avoid conflict; but we will have to wait and see for 2017,” Trel said.

Mondulkiri mines and energy department director Sun Darith said that the company promised not to carry out work on the land of families that refuse compensation.

“If negotiations fail, they will cut the affected areas out. They will not take that land. Some impact is inevitable, but they will solve the problems if they occur,” Darith said. He added that if a large enough number of families objected to the project, “the company will halt the project and it is all right”.

Danh Serey, director of the Environment Ministry’s EIA evaluation department said the project’s impacts have been greatly reduced since the EIA was concluded in November, by reducing the project area from 26,270 hectares to roughly 8,000 hectares.

“They cut all the impacts out,” Serey said.

Ross Sinclair, country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, raised concerns that without a buffer between the project area and forests, there is a risk the forest would be unintentionally harmed.

“WCS recommends that rather than the concession abut directly the boundary of the sanctuaries, there should be a buffer area to ensure there is accidental damage of the protected area or ’spill-over’,” Sinclair said. “Furthermore, the operator of any mine should ensure there is no illegal logging, and land grabbing and particularly no wildlife poaching by workers or migrants associated with the mine.”

An Alex Corporation representative declined to comment.

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