The government has permitted a Cambodian company to explore for titanium in Koh Kong province, according to Suy Sem, minister of industry, mines and energy, the first such license ever granted.
Mr Sem said the ministry had four months ago issued United Khmer Group a license to explore 100 square km in Thma Bang district. Mr Sem said he had no idea of the concession’s potential because the firm had yet to submit its first report.
“They have to come and ask to renew the license every two years. We do this because we need a report on their work,” he said. “If they don’t report the results to us, we will not issue [a license] again.”
Deputy district governor Keo Nybora yesterday said he first learned of the license in June and that drilling had yet to begin.
“The exploration has not yet taken place,” he said. “It is just the plan.”
Company officials did not return a request for comment.
Wildlife Alliance Country Director Suwanna Gauntlett said the firm had begun building roads through its concession—in violation of its exploration license—but recently had stopped.
Even so, she said locals fear what full-scale mining could mean for the largest contiguous rain forest left in Southeast Asia, home to one of seven remaining corridors for the Asian elephant and a burgeoning eco-tourist attraction.
“Everyone is living in great anxiety because we had never been informed about the project until two months ago,” Ms Gauntlett said.
She said the mine would also threaten to undo the millions of dollars the group has spent developing eco-tourism, reforestation and farming projects for local communities, including a carbon trading scheme that promises to bring the area $1.2 million a year.
“It will destroy everything,” she said. “It will turn the village of Chi Pat into an industrial park.”
She said other firms had carried out modest assessments of the area’s potential titanium reserves in the past but never progressed to full-scale exploration.
By law, an environmental impact assessment must precede any mining.
“If they find [titanium], we will think about the value of the forest above the soil and the value of the titanium beneath the soil,” said Mr Sem, the mining minister.