The government has approved a land concession in the heart of dense forest in Koh Kong province for a titanium mine that environmentalists say will devastate dozens of endangered species and clear thousands of hectares of trees in Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom Mountains.
The decision came ahead of a meeting yesterday at the Council for the Development of Cambodia that was supposed to discuss the proposed mining project to be carried out by United Khmer Group, according to a statement released by environmental group Wildlife Alliance. The firm is made up of investors from Cambodia, Singapore and China.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved a land concession to United Khmer Group, a private mining company,” the statement said. “United Khmer Group had exploration rights to search for titanium in 20,400 hectares of densely forested land in the Southern Cardamom Mountains.”
Officials at the CDC as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Mines could not be reached yesterday.
The decision to approve the mine comes after months of high-profile discussions between environmentalists, the company and the government as to how beneficial a mine in the area would be for Cambodia’s development.
United Khmer Group is exploring for titanium on land that is home to 24 natural water sources and more than a quarter of Cambodia’s remaining wild elephants. The area is also the site of a community-based ecotourism program established by Wildlife Alliance in January 2007.
Environmentalists say a mine in the area would degrade one of the Asia’s largest carbon reserves, which could bring millions into the country under the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program.
However, according to a CDC document obtained recently the company claims that the government is set to earn more that $3.3 billion in the first 13 years of mineral extraction. Though environmentalists say that it is impossible to estimate revenues as no exploration in the area has been carried out by the firm.
“This is Cambodia’s natural heritage, its national heritage, and it could all be eliminated by 20,400 hectares of strip mining,” said Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of Wildlife Alliance in a statement. “Without scientific research to prove the economic viability of the proposed mine bulldozing the rainforest is simply destructive and does not even make good business sense.”
Wildlife Alliance added that United Khmer Group should strive to work in close coordination with communities, the Forestry Administration and environmental groups to minimize the mine’s impact on local residents, waterways, and wildlife.
It also requested United Khmer Group to submit “a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment and strictly abide by the regulations laid out in Cambodia’s laws on forestry and mining.”