2-Star General Behind Siem Reap Copper Project

Major General Nem Meng of the Royal Cambodian Army is a stakeholder in a copper company set to acquire a mining license in Siem Reap province, according to an official in the province.

Khlauk Sina, director of the provincial department of industry, mines and energy, said yesterday that there was only one firm looking for copper operating in the province, and that the firm had been carrying out exploration activities for about three months in Chi Kreng district’s Khvav commune.

“This copper firm is privately owned by Cambodian and Chinese investors. Its name is Nem Meng Group,” said Mr Sina. “For the Cambodian-owned side, the firm is owned by His Excellency Nem Meng, a two-star general in the army.”

In announcing the project on Monday, government officials had released only scant details on what could soon be Cambodia’s first large-scale industrial mining operation.

Maj Gen Meng was unavailable yesterday. An environmental official in the province said yesterday that he was unaware of any impact assessment performed in advance of the project, which may be licensed as early as next week.

Such an environmental assessment is required for a license. Ung Seng, Cabinet chief at the environment ministry, said yesterday he could provide no information on the existence of an impact assessment.

However, Mr Sina of the provincial administration also confirmed that the firm was currently in the process of seeking an extraction license from the government as exploration activities had already been undertaken.

“This firm used new and expensive technology for the exploration of underground minerals, which is why the firm has found copper very quickly,” he said.

He added that while he was unaware of the exact size of the company’s exploration area, none of the land fell inside a protected area. He also said he could not remember the name of the Chinese company but that it did not belong to the Chinese government.

The amount of copper suggested to be in the area by Mr Prasidh?13 million tons to be extracted over 50 year?is an enormous amount even compared to the some of the largest operations already in the region.

The Sepon copper and gold operations in Laos, the region’s largest copper mine, respectively, produce approximately 65,000 tons of copper and 90,000 ounces of gold annually, according to the website of the mine’s owner China Minmetals Corp. Total copper reserves are believed to be at about 6 million tons.

Richard Stanger, president of the Cambodian Association of Mining and Exploration and managing director of Australian mining firm Liberty Mining International, declined to comment directly on the Siem Reap project but said that extensive studies were necessary to estimate the size of any resource.

“For a production license to be granted, they should have done a feasibility study and secondly an [Environmental Impact Assessment] study,” he said. “It would also involve a lot of geological assessment and calculation of the resource size. That process is a fairly expensive process.”

He added that a feasibility study would involve “a lot of drilling” and could often take years to complete.

Despite claims by the government that the company has carried out exploration activities and is perhaps mere days away from receiving a production license, civil society groups including the Extractive Industry Social and Environmental Impact Network, said they were unaware of the project’s existence.

“We call for the company and the government to be responsible and to get more consultation with civil society, particularly to discuss the affected communities and the EIA process,” said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum.

Mr Sam Ath said it was of worrying that nobody seemed to know anything about the operations or whereabouts of the company in Siem Reap province.

“The government must hold the company accountable, and the company should hold the government also accountable to ensure that they respect the Cambodian law,” he said. “The problem is we do not have enough information.”

Lon Kanal, director of Siem Reap’s environmental department, said the firm was not required to perform an impact assessment in the exploration stage.

“There are two stages here. The firm can first be granted the exploration license. Then the EIA can be conducted,” he said, adding that he was unaware of the company’s operations in the area.

Nou Puthyk, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho in Siem Reap, said he had heard about the exploration activities being carried out in Chi Kreng district, but that no villagers had protested against the project.

“Local villagers there seem to be calm,” he said. “We are ready to help whenever villagers feel they are being mistreated, but we hope to see locals benefit with the company.”

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