Representatives from a Russian company met with Pailin municipal officials on Thursday to discuss their plans to mine gemstones in the area, officials said.
The news that the firm had obtained the rights to mine over a 6-km area has left officials and residents of the former Khmer Rouge stronghold concerned over the environmental damage such an operation could cause.
“We are all worried that they will be investing in gemstone mining-the pollution will affect people and the environment will be destroyed,” said Puk Touch, deputy director of Pailin’s department of industry, said Tuesday.
“Pailin authorities asked the company not to cause harm to people or the environment,” Keut Sothea, Pailin deputy governor, said Monday.
“If [the mining] is in the interest of the country, we have no problem. But if [the company] destroys the environment here, we will have to stop the operation,” he said.
In a letter dated July 1, a copy of which was received by the Pailin municipality, Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen that the company had found gemstones in the Phnom Trop area. He requested authorization for the company to mine, which Hun Sen granted the same day, Pailin officials said. Puk Touch confirmed the content of the letter.
Suy Sem, however, denied on Tuesday that the letter gave authorization for mining.
“I just allowed the company to first conduct research to find out whether it will affect people’s living conditions and the environment. If it does, we will not approve it,” he said.
However, Suy Sem added: “Mineral resources belong to the state, and when mines are found, we have to exploit them.”
Gemstone mining in the Pailin area in the 1990s caused pollution in the Sangke river up to Battambang town.
“We have been trying to keep people from mining for years,” Ly Sun Ieng, Pailin environment director, said Monday. “We have experienced [excessive mining] in the past and we don’t want this to happen again,” he said.