Gem-mining companies in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin will not be allowed to continue operations if conditions to respect the environment are not met, officials said last week.
Pailin’s second deputy governor, Keut Sothea, said gem-mining companies have caused serious environmental damage, particularly in polluting water sources in the area.
He said the problem has increased sharply over the last few years, ever since former Khmer Rouge rebels defected to the government in 1996 and the gem-mining trade has shifted from their hands to those of private companies. At least two of the companies are Thai-owned, officials said.
According to their contracts with the Cambodian government, gem-mining companies are required to build treatment basins before releasing water into streams and canals to prevent pollution, Keut Sothea said.
To find gems, machines dig deep in the earth and then rinse the soil. Officials allege the companies then pour the dirty water into canals used by residents.
The companies have ignored rules spelled out in their contracts, Keut Sothea said.
“Businessmen have a lot of tricks….If they don’t respect the regulations, their mining operations will be stopped,” he said.
Pailin Municipal Cabinet Chief Mei Meakk said authorities also will seek to restrict mining companies from expanding into the highland areas surrounding Pailin once their current one-year contracts expire.“We must be serious about the environment.”
Environmental authorities also stressed that contracts soon will be more strongly enforced to reduce environmental damage.
Government officials have stepped up their efforts to protect the environment since a toxic waste scandal in Sihanoukville in late 1998. Last year, the Council of Ministers passed a sub-decree to reduce water pollution partly through stricter monitoring of industrial processes.