The Australian mining company Indochine Resources yesterday denied claims by Ratanakkiri province villagers that it was conducting explorative drilling on a mountain considered sacred by local ethnic Kavet villagers.
Kavet villagers in the Veun Sai district complained last week that the company had disturbed spirits on Sa Piang Vak Mountain and a local deputy chief of Kuk Lak commune persisted yesterday in claiming that drilling had in fact taken place in the area.
Ross Hill, executive director of Indochine Resources, said his company had not taken drill samples from the mountain, adding the nearest drilling for gold and other deposits such as copper had occurred in Siem Pang district in Stung Treng province to the west.
“Indochine Resources has not and is not drilling in Sa Piang Vak area,” Mr Hill wrote in an email. “The only drilling campaign undertaken by Indochine Resources in the general area of concern was throughout the last quarter of 2008 […] about 15 km northwest of Kang Nak Village” in Santhepheap commune.
Mr Hill also said that during that earlier phase of exploration the company had consulted with relevant ministry and local officials and that villagers “were well aware of our program as it was based out of Kang Nak Village.”
“[T]he company plans to forthwith consult with all relevant parties to clear up the current misunderstanding on the part of some villagers that has recently arisen,” he wrote.
Exploration activities this year in Ratanakkiri consisted of “a low-impact stream-based sediment testing program,” he said. “We have several teams in different locations throughout the regions both within and outside [Virachey] National Park.”
Villagers from three Kavet villages in Veun Sai district started to complain about the firm’s supposed exploration activities on the mountain last month after a string of sudden deaths and illnesses rocked the communities.
Spirits have been angered by the alleged exploration activities and sown death and disease in revenge for the villagers’ failure to protect the mountain, villagers said.
Phung Choeung deputy chief of Kuk Lak commune, where two Kavet villages are located, maintained Indochine Resources had conducted drills on the mountain last year.
“The company was exploring by digging up soil and drilling on Sa Piang Vak Mountain and surrounding area last year,” he said by telephone. “They took some villagers to work with them.”
“This year they are exploring in the Lai Lai stream” in Kuk Lak commune, he added.
He said the firm had not consulted officials in Kak Luk and Veun Sai commune, adding, “They are here without informing us.”
Mr Choeun said local villagers were preparing to lodge a grievance with provincial authorities about the supposed exploration activities.
He added Kang Nak village was currently completely closed-off as villagers were holding a sacrificial ceremony to appease the spirits.