Gold Miners Accused of Polluting Waterways

Gold miners allegedly working for a relative of Prime Minister Hun Sen in Oddar Meanchey province’s Andaung Bor mine—including eight arrested Dec 30 and released last week—may have polluted rivers and streams with the toxic substance mercury, government officials and a mine worker said.

Chhorn Kantha, director of Od­dar Meanchey’s Department of In­dus­try, Energy and Mines, said the eight miners were arrested on Dec 30 and sent to Siem Reap provincial court under suspicion of using mercury to mine.

Deputy Siem Reap Prosecutor Ton Seihak Dekchack said Dy Pheap, whom the prosecutor identified as a relative of the prime minister, bailed out the eight miners last week and confirmed that they were his employees.

The director of the ministry’s Department of Geology confirmed the discovery of mercury use late last week.

“We have learned that mine workers have been using mercury since 2001 in that area,” Sieng Sotham said. “We are going to the place to educate them to stop using chemicals next month.”

Sieng Sotham said that mercury, used to separate gold from rock, can flow into rivers and conta­minate drinking water.            “Workers do not care about people’s health,” he said.

Large does of mercury are fatal, while low-level exposure can result in damage to the digestive, nervous and renal systems.

In a separate case, a Korean company allowed to operate in the area was ordered to cease mining operations last year for using high explosives to blast craters up to 30 meters deep without permission.

Oddar Meanchey provincial Governor Lay Virak said Sunday: “I have not learned about mercury being used here, but we ordered a Korean company to stop operation months ago for using explosives.”

Provincial Cabinet Chief Bun Thin, however, said the company was still operating and local authorities were unable to inspect their operation.

Cambodian-owned company Angkor Wat Cement and Korean-run company Neoneer share permission to seek gold in Oddar Meanchey, provincial officials said.


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