Company To Open Gem Mine in Ratanakkiri

A convoy of about five trucks, car­rying two large excavators, rolled into Banlung town in Rat­an­akkiri province last weekend, on their way to begin operating the country’s first officially-sanctioned industrial-scale gem mine.

Ratanakkiri Governor Kham Khoeun confirmed Tuesday that a company would begin mining for zircon in the province, but de­clined to reveal the company’s name or any details about the lo­cation of the mine or its effects on indigenous minorities, who now earn a modest living from small-scale gem mining.

“The company has a license from the government for exploitation,” he said by phone. “They al­ready performed the required feasibility study.”

Sok Leng, director of the Ge­neral Directorate of Mines at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and En­ergy, declined to comment Tues­day.

In an interview in June, Sok Leng said no exploitation permits had been awarded for industrial-scale mining of gems or precious metals. The government had so far only given out exploration permits, which don’t allow any breaking of ground, he said.

“There are 10 companies interested in mining in Cambodia,” he said at the time. “All the companies are still in the study process.”

Before approval for exploitation is granted, the mining company must by law perform an environmental impact assessment, which, according to the subde­cree on environmental impact as­ses­sment process, is supposed to in­volve public participation and co­mments on the project.

Locals in Ratanakkiri, however, said this week they were never informed about the project and are worried about its effects.

An industrial-scale mine could wipe out the local trade within a year, a local gem dealer said.

The majority of the mining is cur­rently undertaken in the moun­tains of Barkeo district by in­digenous families. They stake small claims, dig narrow, deep holes by hand or with simple tooks and sift painstakingly through the dirt to pick out small stones.

(Reporting by Kevin Doyle, Van Roeun, and Solana Pyne)


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