Firm Illegally Extracting Gold in R’Kiri, Officials Say

Operations allegedly taking place in exploration zone of Australian company

Officials in Ratanakkiri province said yesterday that they had discovered an illegal mining operation extracting gold in O’Yadaw district despite no firm having received an extraction license from the government.

An official from Australian firm Liberty Mining International, which has permission to explore for gold on land covering about 300 sq km in O’Yadaw district, said the operation fell in the middle of his company’s licensed exploration zone.

Lim Mao, deputy chief of the provincial Forestry Administration, said more than 20 officials from his administration and the military had discovered that a firm was conducting two mining operations in Takok Phnong village on Monday, one of which was extracting gold.

“There were a total of 20 Cambodian workers and Vietnamese experts when we dropped by the two operational sites,” said Mr Mao. “One location seems to be doing exploration research and another site is extracting gold.”

Mr Mao said he had counted at least eight machines used for separating gold from its ore as well as a number of deep holes in the ground.

According to a letter stamped by the company in October, Land Joint Stock International Corporation Co Ltd (JSIC) obtained an exploration license for gold in Ratanakkiri province on Jan 20.

But Richard Stanger, managing director of Liberty Mining International, said JSIC had moved illegal miners off the site earlier this year to carry out its own operations. He said he was not certain JSIC was extracting gold, but noted that the company was building roads and bringing in machinery for digging.

“We wouldn’t mind having them out of there,” he said. “They are not there with anyone’s permission.”

He added that the firm posed a great risk to the environment through the possible use of chemicals.

Provincial mining director Hem Vanthan confirmed yesterday that JSIC had been granted an exploration license for 181 sq km in O’Yadaw district earlier this year.

“I sent my officials to the field to investigate after receiving information from the Forestry Administration that gold was being extracted by the firm,” he said. “If it is discovered the firm is extracting gold and it is illegal, it must be closed down immediately.”

By law any person who conducts a mining operation without a license faces a prison term of one to five years and must pay a fine that varies depending on how much mineral wealth has been extracted.

Representatives at JSIC could not be reached.

The government announced in May it would ramp up its efforts to eliminate illegal mining operations in Cambodia in a quest to regulate the sector. More than 40 percent of Ratanakkiri province, or 4,400 sq km, has been licensed to 10 mining companies for exploration for gold, copper and iron ore.

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