A gem-mining operation in Ratanakkiri province’s Bokeo district has choked off the water supply to villages along the district’s Lvea River, villagers and rights workers said.
Em Yon, a resident of Muoy village, which has been badly affected by the mining, said Sunday that the little water that still flows is so muddy it cannot be used for irrigation, let alone drinking.
“There are no fish and no water; villagers are turning to wells for water,” he said, adding that villagers are falling ill because of contaminated well water.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Sunday that his group was concerned about the harm being done to the villagers and the environment by miners in search of sapphires and rubies on Dang Mountain. The miners have been using powerful hoses to blast earth from the hillside, filling the Lvea River with tons of silt.
Pen Bonnar said the mining operation has been reported to police.
“I heard [the police] went there on Friday but did nothing,” he added.
Provincial Police Chief Ray Rai said he was aware of the mining activity and said that district authorities had been ordered to stop it.
District authorities visited the mountain Friday to put a halt to the mining, but found nobody digging at the site, he said.
“The [provincial] governor recently ordered the Bokeo district authority to…stop them from gem mining. If they can’t stop them, we will go there and do it immediately.”
Em Yon said that the miners hid their equipment before police arrived Friday and then resumed work within three hours of the authorities departing.
Em Yon said the 5-hectare mining operation is linked to powerful government officials.
“We know [the miners] are involved with the district and provincial authorities,” he said.
“If they were not involved, how could [the miners] excavate so huge a piece of land.”
Ratanakkiri Provincial Governor Moung Poy and Bokeo District Governor Suth Pao were not available for comment.