The Minister of Environment will weigh the potential economic benefits of a controversial mineral mine in the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary in Kompong Speu province, before deciding whether to grant approval.
On Nov 22, Industry, Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem and Future Environment Ltd company director Veng Heang signed a memorandum of understanding giving the company the go-ahead to look for mineral deposits over a 70-square-km area in the Kompong Speu sanctuary.
Under Article 4 of Cambodia’s 1994 Declaration of Protected Areas, however, the exploitation of minerals and use of explosives in a protected area is prohibited.
“It depends on the economic value,” Minister Mok Mareth said last week. “If it is really important to the economy, we have to support the project.”
Mok Mareth said he was unaware of the signed agreement even though the designated protected area falls under the auspices of his ministry.
“We didn’t know about the exploration,” he said, adding he plans to meet with Suy Sem to review the details of the agreement and make a final decision.
“I don’t know what the quantity or economic benefit will be,” he said. “We can’t say 100 percent conservation in a protected area. But it doesn’t mean we will destroy all the protected areas.”
Earlier this month, officials at the provincial and national levels said they were unaware of the mining agreement with several provincial officials saying the project would need to go through them before it could commence.
But Mike Davis of forestry watchdog Global Witness said Monday that work is already underway and Industry, Mines and Energy Ministry personnel had visited the site within the past two weeks to draw up the boundaries of the site.
He said two sites were being worked on, one in a gully where the French extracted zinc in the 1950s and the other on Phnom Prak mountain.
So far prospectors have used only hammers and chisels but they had expressed an interest in using dynamite, he said, adding that such activity was illegal in a protected area.
“It’s actually one of the clearest points of the law,” he said.