An official at the Ministry of Mines and Energy has confirmed that a Chinese company is applying for a license to extract gold from a 100-hectare plot in Mondolkiri province, but insisted that the project would only go forward with the consent of local, small-scale miners.
About 300 villagers in Keo Seima district protested outside their local commune office on Thursday to demand that the government not grant the license to Rong Cheng Industrial Investment, which they accuse of polluting the area after years of exploration. They also fear that approval will force an end to their own artisanal operations on overlapping land.
Over the weekend, Meng Saktheara, a secretary of state at the Mines Ministry, confirmed that the company had explored the area for gold in the past and recently applied for permission to start mining. He said the review was in progress and would involve several steps, including a feasibility study, impact assessments, and consultation with the local community for its free, prior and informed consent.
“It is imperative that both company and local community [members], who are currently mining heavily in the area, develop an integrated mining approach together and establish a long term local development partnership if the mining license will be granted,” he said in an email.
He said the December 7 site visit by ministry and company officials that sparked the protest was part of the review process.
Mr. Saktheara declined to directly address the protesters’ claims that the company had violated the terms of its prior exploration license, but he said that much of the illegal mining in the area was at the hands of the artisanal miners themselves, who were digging bigger and deeper mines than allowed.
Seng Sovanda, one of the local miners, insisted that he and his neighbors were running modest operations.
“We have never done large-scale gold extraction because we follow only traditional practices,” he said on Monday. “But the mining company that we don’t want to start mining has been extracting gold for a long time using chemicals and polluting the environment.”