More than 500 artisanal miners plan to assemble at the Preah Vihear provincial hall on Monday, seeking help over what they say is a sustained campaign of intimidation and violence by RCAF soldiers that has prevented them from working in traditional mining areas, miner representatives said.
Keh Kay, representative for the ethnic Kuoy villagers who make livings as artisanal gold miners in Rovieng district’s Romtom and Romany communes, said yesterday that since May, threats of violence have prevented the gold miners from reaching three separate exploration zones: Prey Prey Tortoeng, Bos Tathang and Pralach Srach.
“Wherever local artisanal gold miners discover even a small piece of gold, the RCAF soldiers always stop us from reaching that zone again,” he said.
Earlier this week, the miners filed a complaint with the provincial department of mining and energy and the rights group Adhoc, alleging that Chan Sopheaktra, an RCAF commander from the district’s Phnom Dek area, and his unnamed accomplices repeatedly beat and intimidated miners as they searched for gold. They have not yet had a response, said Doeum Yoeun, chief of Artisanal Gold Miner Community.
Mr Yoeurn said that soldiers stationed at the entrance to the exploration zones had rejected an order issued in July by Provincial Governor Oum Mara that granted the miners permission to search for gold, saying it was “not up-to-date.”
“When we move to search at the new zone, we discover nothing,” he said, “Gold is like mushroom, where it used to grow, it will appear at the same zones.”
Mr Mara could not be reached yesterday, but Sam Leang Ny, director of the provincial department of mining and energy, confirmed the governor had given the miners express permission to search for gold.
“Nationwide, artisanal gold miners using traditional practices to explore for gold by hand are not prohibited,” he said. He added that using heavy machinery to drill was illegal.
Mr Leang Ny admitted that mining zones could become unruly, as they drew hopeful prospectors from other provinces.
“Some are not police or [RCAF] military soldiers, but they illegally wear these uniforms,” he said.
“We are working hard…to ensure the artisanal gold miners are not prevented from searching for gold.”