The Environment Ministry this week is to investigate claims that RCAF soldiers armed with AK-47 rifles barred its rangers from entering the site of a proposed Pursat province mine in a wildlife sanctuary, according to an environmental organization.
A ministry delegation is to begin Wednesday a three-day visit to a site inside the 334,000-hectare Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary where Southern Mining Co has been exploring for antimony and chromium ore since last year, according to Fauna & Flora International, which manages the park with the ministry.
Environment Ministry officials declined Sunday to confirm the investigation, while a Southern Mining executive said soldiers were necessary to provide security.
David Bradfield, FFI Cardamom Mountains sanctuary project manager, said Sunday that on a July 3 visit to inspect a road cut into the forest in Veal Veng district, Bradfield, a translator and two rangers were confronted by men in a luxury sport utility vehicle.
“Four Cambodian soldiers jumped out and together with the mine manager, they basically surrounded us with their AK-47s and told us to get out,” said Bradfield, adding that the soldiers had not trained their guns on the visitors.
Rangers are mandated to patrol the entire sanctuary, which spans three provinces. But the 10,000-hectare concession, which the Environment Ministry granted to Southern Mining last year, is sign-posted with warnings not to enter, and access roads to the site all have military roadblocks, Bradfield said.
The rangers and FFI, which provides funding for the ranger teams, have been unable to investigate allegations that poaching and illegal logging are occurring within the site, he said.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth could not be contacted Sunday. Environment Secretary of State Khieu Muth referred questions to Secretary of State Yin Kim Sean, who said the sanctuary was outside his portfolio.
However an environmental official with knowledge of the mine confirmed the confrontation, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The soldiers who work for the company would not allow them to go in as they did not have permission from relevant officials and the company,” he said. “The company has complained to the Environment Ministry to find justice for them after they were accused of making wooden furniture and poaching.”
Southern Mining Chairman Khun Kakkda said Sunday that soldiers were necessary to protect workers.
“I have not heard about this problem,” he said of the reported July 3 incident. “We have 30 soldiers who provide security in that place because we have foreign experts who are conducting explorations.”
“If anyone wants to go there they should just ask permission first because our company’s work is not illegal,” he said.
Khun Kakkda denied that the company had engaged in poaching or illegal logging, and said timber cut due to mining operations would not be sold by Southern Mining.
“When we start work, the trees will be cut down and we won’t need them,” he said. “Let whoever wants it take it.”
RCAF Military Region 5 Deputy Commander Ek Sam On said Sunday that he was unfamiliar with the reported incident but that the military was obligated to provide a secure business environment.
“At insecure places, when any company asks for our forces to help protect them, we will help them,” he said. “When there is good security, more companies will come into our country.”