Ministry Holds Forum on Growth Opportunities in Mining Sector

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)

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