The powerful AZ Group of Companies, whose chairman is CPP parliamentarian Ung Bun Hoaw, has obtained a government license to mine raw aluminum in Mondolkiri province inside the recently inaugurated Mondolkiri Protected Forest, officials said Wednesday.
AZ geologist Ouk Bunseng said the firm received an exploration license and mining license four months ago to search for bauxite, or raw aluminum, in Sen Monorom and Pech Chreada districts and O’Reang district’s Pou Tru commune.
“We have the same land geology as Vietnam, so we are sure there will be some amount of aluminum,” Ouk Bunseng said, adding that Vietnam processes aluminum in the neighboring Central Highlands.
Forestry Administration spokesman Thun Sarath said the exploration area overlaps with the Mondolkiri Protected Forest in Pech Chreada and O’Reang’s Pou Tru commune, which was inaugurated late last year and is meant to be a refuge for elephants, rare forest cows, tigers, and eco-tourism.
Pou Tru commune has also been the site of large-scale land protests against the controversial Chinese firm Wuzhishan, which is planting pine trees for pulp paper processing on a massive government-granted land concession.
The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy licensed AZ’s mining project, said Ung Ponnara, an undersecretary of state at the ministry. “We are urging private companies to search for every mineral resource,” Ung Ponnara said. “We have aluminum in Mondolkiri, Kratie and Battambang [provinces].”
Ouk Bunseng said AZ, which currently collects tolls on National Route 4 and recently acquired a stake in the Foreign Trade Bank, is partnered in the project with a Japanese firm that he declined to name.
He also said that the one-year survey to locate aluminum, but not to commercially mine it, will cost $2 million. At the end of the survey, AZ will have the right to mine bauxite and build a bauxite-processing factory, as well as roads and bridge to access the sites, he said.
“From my point of view, aluminum will provide a high level of benefits for the nation and people,” he said, adding that a factory in the province would cost about $1.2 billion to set up.
Forestry Administration’s Thun Sarath said that if environmental impact assessments show that mining bauxite yields better benefits than maintaining the forest, it will be permitted.
“For the survey period there is no problem, but to mine, the company has to ask permission,” he said.
Men Den, deputy director of the National Petroleum Authority, said that Cambodia has aluminum deposits but that no one has researched how much.
Deputy Prime Minster Sok An urged investors at a Feb 23 signing ceremony for the new Kamchhay hydropower dam in Kampot province to invest in hydropower in Mondolkiri. He also revealed that a firm, which he did not name, might need 1,500 megawatts of power to run a bauxite-processing factory there.
AZ Group’s chairman Ung Bun Hoaw is an elected CPP lawmaker for Takeo province, as is Sok An.
Svay Sam Eang, Mondolkiri province cabinet chief, said that AZ has visited a site in the province several times, but that there has not yet been any mining. He said he was not sure whether the proposed investment would benefit the province.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said that the government should not have awarded the mining concession to AZ because a law on mining concessions has not yet been adopted.
“The state will lose revenue…the government should hire experts to determine where the minerals are before allowing companies to jump in and do mining,” he said.
“Minerals need to be brought under control of the state,” he said.