Police on Thursday raided three illegal gold mines in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district believed to have been operated by undocumented Vietnamese migrants, but made no arrests as all the camps had been abandoned, possibly just hours earlier.
“No one was caught because they already fled and we saw only the shelters, tents, electrical wires and holes, and we burned it all,” said district governor Nou The, who joined the raids.
The authorities were told about the illicit mining operations by rights group Adhoc—which was tipped off by locals—and went to the mines Thursday afternoon.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Chhay Thy, who followed the police on Thursday’s raids, said the locals who tipped him off told him that the miners had snuck into Cambodia from Vietnam, which borders the province. He said villagers near one of the abandoned mines said they had left that morning.
Mr. Thy said the coincidence had made him suspicious that the authorities had a hand in the illegal mining, which is widespread along Cambodia’s border with Vietnam. In June, six men who were detained following a raid on an illegal mine in Mondolkiri province turned out to be Cambodian soldiers and were released after authorities dismissed their offense as a minor crime.
“When we inform the police, they hesitate and intervene late, giving the miners time to run away,” he said.
Mr. Thy said he told authorities about the three mines last week.
Mr. The denied the claims of collusion.
“Civil society just accuses the authorities,” he said. “Do you know what today is? It is a holiday, but I still led my authorities to crack down on this offense,” he said.
Thursday was Constitution Day, a national holiday.