Pailin municipality ordered its residents to stop mining after receiving a cease and desist order in early December from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, local officials said Wednesday.
But officials admitted that the province has been largely mined-out since the late 1990s.
“We are informing people to stop digging from mines because it is destroying [our] natural resources,” said Uk Touch, the deputy director of industry, mines and energy for Pailin municipality.
He said the miners, who are mostly migrants from other provinces and former Khmer Rouge soldiers, had no reaction when told to stop digging.
“They did not want to make this business, but they had no other work,” Uk Touch said. “Their mining business is making them poorer and poorer and their debt is increasing.”
The province used to be rich in high-quality rubies and sapphires, but they are no longer plentiful, said Keuth Sothea, Pailin deputy governor. From 1990 to 1996, Khmer Rouge soldiers launched large-scale mining businesses in stones and logs, but mining has been a small business in Pailin since 1998, he said.
“Miners cannot make money today because the stones are [depleted] and their income cannot support their families,” he added.
Neang March, 21, said she has been mining in Pailin for more than a year, but she has never made good money.
“Sometimes I cannot make enough money to pay the land owner,” she said. “I spend $50 to buy a plot to mine, but I get back 2,000 or 10,000 riel from it.”
She also complained of getting malaria, which is rampant in Pailin.
“We have to prevent mining, even if it’s on a small scale,” Keuth Sothea said. “There is still more gold and mines in the mountains at the border with Thailand, but nobody goes because of malaria.”