Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem yesterday said that the government had no private interests in a mining firm exploring for titanium in Koh Kong province.
On Wednesday environmental group Wildlife Alliance reported that Choup Sokuntheara, chief of the Geo-Environment Office in the ministry’s General Department of Mineral Resources, had represented Cambodian firm United Khmer Group during a presentation in front of a government committee investigating the potential damage the mine could cause in the area.
“I did not order any of my officials to be a representative of the mining company,” Mr Sem said. “All mineral officials cannot work for a mineral company. If they do, it violates the law.”
Mr Sem added that government officials are only permitted to work for or invest in a mineral company if they do not have a position within the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy. He also said that he had never heard of Mr Sokuntheara before.
In a report on its website on Wednesday, Wildlife Alliance cited the involvement of Mr Sokuntheara as a “conflict of interest” and questioned claims that the mine – which covers a 20,000 hectare area made up of thick forest – was on land containing bare earth and bamboo.
Mr Sokuntheara could not be reached yesterday, but on Thursday he said he had received an order from Sok Leng, director of the General Department of Mineral Resources, to go and represent the company during the Tuesday meeting. Mr Leng could not be reached yesterday.
Last month a delegation including Environment Minister Mok Mareth, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun and Rural Development Chairman Yim Chhay Ly, visited the site of the proposed mine in Chiphat commune and told locals that the mine would be halted if deemed a threat to the environment and local economy.
Wildlife Alliance says the mine would devastate a thriving community-based ecotourism project which has raised more than $55,000 for villagers in Chiphat commune since 2007.
The area of the mining site is also home to more than a quarter of the remaining wild elephants left in Cambodia and contains 24 different water sources that provide fish for locals.
(Additional reporting by Simon Marks)