Illegal Gold Mines Raided in Ratanakkiri, Local Warned That Arrests Will Follow

Authorities in Ratanakkiri province on Wednesday confiscated machinery used at illegal gold mining sites in the jungle of O’Yadaw district and warned villagers in the area that they will be arrested if they continue to work as laborers at the mines.

More than 20 district and provincial military police officers took part in the raid near Piek village in Yatung commune, which resulted in the impounding of four machines used to crush rock and earth as part of the gold extraction process, the district’s military police commander Sok Min said.

Officers initially encountered some resistance from around a dozen local villagers but the situation calmed down when they were told that mining operations were illegal, Mr Min said, adding that the clandestine mines in the district employ chemicals that are seriously polluting to the environment.

“Villagers only understand the law a little, which is why we only warned them not to mine for gold in the future,” he said.

“Mining for gold is critically polluting to the environment,” he added.

An ethnic Jarai villager, who witnessed the police operation on Wednesday, said that there are at least 10, large-scale illegal mining operations in the district, which are operated with expertise provided by Vietnamese businessmen who have specialized in gold mining in the region since early 2000.

Local minority villages only provide the labor to the mines, said the man, who only gave his name as Pnhoeng for fear of retribution.

“I only know that those businesses told local villagers to help them mine for gold…. They lobbied local villagers and told them not to fear being arrested,” Pnhoeng said by telephone yesterday.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the fact that authorities only confiscated machinery and did not arrest the operators of the mines showed the authorities are hesitant to take on those who run the illegal businesses. Illegal gold mining has been reported for a number of years, and yet the authorities have only decided to act now, he added.

“Local communities reported that the chemicals used to explore for gold…had flowed into streams and lakes. Such chemicals are very harmful to animals and humans, and dozens of cattle have reportedly died and humans have suffered itchy skin diseases when they drank or took showers in that water,” Mr Bonnar said.

In a 2004 report on small-scale gold mining in Cambodia, predominately in the northeast of the country, Oxfam America warned that mercury and cyanide were being used in the gold extraction process, which has led to pollution of the environment and the sickness and death of wildlife and people working at the illegal mines.

 

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