The government has moved to take control of its lucrative gem-mining industry in hopes it might help finance the rebuilding of its economy, officials said.
The Council of Ministers on Friday approved proposed legislation that would put gems among the natural resources belonging to the state, instead of the private sector.
The move would allow Cambodia’s government to renegotiate deals with miners in former Khmer Rouge strongholds, particularly Pailin, and combat unregulated mining of the natural resource.
Council spokesman Pen Thol said that most of the revenue from mining in these areas now remains with the former guerrillas.
“Now there is some anarchic exploitation of minerals as we don’t have a law. With a law illegal mining will be reduced,” Reuters reported Pen Thol as saying.
Under the draft law, which is expected to soon be passed by the National Assembly, unlicensed miners would be fined three times the value of the mineral they dug up, Reuters reported.
Unlicensed miners could also face up to 10 years in prison, Pen Thol told Reuters, as well as have as much as a 10 million riel, or approximately $2,600, fine levied against them.
Private mining companies have moved in to reap Pailin’s earthen riches without paying any taxes or royalties to the government, Pen Thol pointed out.
“At the moment we cannot arrest them or even ask them to stop,” he said.
Local reports last month said that Pailin, which remained mostly autonomous since a mass Khmer Rouge defection in 1996, was ready to pay taxes to the government.
That opened up speculation that the supply of gem ores may be close to being exhausted.
Cambodia has deposits of gold, gem stones, phosphates, limestone and bauxite, though there has been little exploration or large-scale exploitation due to decades of conflict, Reuters reported.
There has been, according to Reuters, small-scale exploitation of gems such as sapphires and rubies, especially in Pailin.