Illegal Mining Operation Resumes in Ratanakkiri

An illegal gem-mining operation has resumed months after being shut down by district officials in Ratanakkiri province’s Bakeo district, officials said Tuesday.

The miners have been using pow­erful hoses to blast earth from the side of Dang Mountain in search of sapphires and rubies, filling the Lvea River with tons of silt.

The operation has now expanded to more than 20 high-power water cannons in Keh Chung, Kak and Laminh communes, Em Chivoan, deputy chief of Ratanak­kiri provincial police’s statistics office, said Tuesday. Authorities ordered the mining to stop in late 2006, but operations began to resume in full last month, he added.

“This year the operation is stronger and stronger,” Em Chi­voan said. “They are polluting the water in the small river and damaging the crops of the villagers along it.”

Deputy District Governor Soth Pao said that District Governor Kum Sakhan had dispatched po­lice, military police and district soldiers to stop the operation and ask the miners to sign a document agreeing not to resume mining. He said that if the operations did not stop, authorities would confiscate the equipment and send the miners to court.

But Soth Pao added that it was a small-scale operation that involved only two machines, not more than 20.

But Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Ray Rai feared that the miners had bribed district officials. “If they have no support from district officials, they cannot do it,” Ray Rai said. “I worry that they have conspired amongst themselves to do this.”

Soth Pao said that he personally had not received any bribes, but that he did not know whether other district officials had taken bribes or not.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, claimed that local authorities had not shut down the operations be­cause they were awaiting orders from provincial officials. He added that the polluted river water was also affecting local villagers’ health.

Chou Sopheak, director of the provincial environment department, said he was not aware that mining had resumed, but added that he had informed Provincial Governor Muong Poy, who could not be reached Tuesday, about the operation in the past.

 

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