Artisanal Gold Miners at Oz Minerals Site Start to Leave

Twelve families allegedly involved in illegal mining activities in Mondolkiri province, where Australian miner OZ Minerals is exploring for gold, have left the area as authorities continue to block the delivery of key mining supplies, villagers and officials said yesterday.

The crack down on local miners comes as OZ Minerals continues its exploratory activities in the area known as Okvau Ochung in its quest to prove deposits of two million ounces of gold.

Authorities originally set a deadline of June 30 for the remaining 69 families to leave the area but that date was missed as villagers, who have been active in the area in Keo Seima district since 2002, refused to move without receiving compensation money.

Immediately following the deadline, the government said it would resolve the situation by preventing the delivery of chemical supplies to the area.

“Although there is still a decision to be made on a new eviction deadline by district and provincial authorities, families have moved to another area as they can no longer mine,” Chung Phlas commune chief Leat Limkun said yesterday. “I have heard villagers’ demands for a small amount of compensation is now under consideration.”

OZ Minerals said in June many of the villagers were asked to leave under a government policy to clean up illegal mining activities, which through the use of toxic chemical usage can cause severe damage to the environment. Officials at OZ Minerals in Australia did not respond to questions submitted yesterday.

Mam Sambath, chairperson of the Extractive Industry Social and Environmental Impact Network, or EISEI, said yesterday that while welcoming the government’s decision not to forcibly evict families at the site, it is unknown what has become of the families who have been driven from the area.

“[I]t is clear that once the means of generating income for the residents were restricted, they had to relocate. Where they have relocated to is unknown. Whether they will find an adequate means to replace their previous income generation is also unknown,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Chan Phea, an artisanal gold miner and representative for the remaining families, said no compensation had been given to the families who have left the area, forcing them to hunt out alternative financial avenues in neighboring provinces.

“We just want the government to compensate us a little sum of money for starting a new life,” she said, adding that the homes of those who left the area are still standing.

Keo Seima district governor Sin Vanvuth said he had yet to here any decision regarding compensation for villagers from provincial authorities and said the government would refrain from physically intervening in the eviction of the remaining families.

“Authorities have cut off the access to the area for delivering chemical substances,” he said. “It is the rainy season so we are understanding of their hardship, which is why we have no plan…to dismantle their temporary shelters.”


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