In a sign of continuing controversy over how best to dig up Cambodia’s riches, the Environment Ministry on Wednesday conducted a seminar on the country’s nascent mineral resources sector, fielding questions from mining companies and environmental NGOs alike.
“We are very proud of our mineral resources but we must be careful how we collect it,” Environment Minister Mok Mareth told the forum, billed as a “Dialogue on Growth Opportunity and Environmental Management in Mining Sector.”
In remarks to the press in September, Mok Mareth said Cambodia’s protected areas, even the most sensitive locations, should be opened to exploration in the name of economic development.
Cambodia is considered a highly prospective country for mining, but while exploration is occurring across the country for minerals such as gold, copper, zinc and bauxite, few significant finds have been announced so far.
Environmental groups have complained to the ministry that the promotion of mining undermines their decade-old efforts to preserve the country’s protected areas.
Participants at Wednesday’s seminar focused on the lack of regulation governing companies while they explore for minerals.
“I think we need to flesh out those differences,” Peter Jipp, World Bank senior natural resources management specialist, told the meeting in Phnom Penh.
David Bradfield, a project manager for Fauna & Flora International, said a company, which was still in the exploration stage in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, had in the previous 18 months installed 25 km of road as well as housing, storage and pipelines.
“We have to clarify the extent of activities during the exploration stage,” Bradfield said.
Mok Mareth said roads are necessary for exploration, adding that the recently adopted Protected Areas Law and a new standard contract drafted by the ministry would ensure respect for the environment.
That contract requires exploring companies not alter the geological formation of the land, allow ministry officials access to their sites, and contribute funding to the management of protected areas.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)