The director of the Mondolkiri provincial mines and energy department Tuesday identified the operators of an illegal gold mine that was shut down last week as Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officers.
San Darith said that on Friday, his department, together with provincial police, detained six people—including three Chinese nationals—working at the gold mine in Keo Seima district.
“We arrested those people for questioning, but we released them from custody on the same day because they did not commit a [serious] crime,” he said, adding that police padlocked the gate leading to the mine before leaving.
According to Mr. Darith, commune chief Leap Limkun identified three RCAF officers—Chhum Mo, Te Kimsan and Chhan Teang—as the operators of the mine. “Those people cooperated to exploit the gold mine together,” he said.
Mr. Darith claimed that Mr. Mo was a nephew of RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, and that Mr. Kimsan was a nephew of the chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, Hing Bun Heang.
General Saroeun could not be reached and General Bun Heang said he had never heard of Mr. Kimsan. Mr. Limkun, the commune chief, also could not be reached.
Mr. Darith said he would include the officers’ names in the report he intended to send to the provincial court today, along with the names of the six detained at the mine.
He added that the six told him that Khin Sophal, the deputy chief of Pou Tung village, where the mine is located, was its owner.
Contacted Tuesday, Mr. Sophal said that he was only responsible for managing the land the mine is located on, and denied being involved in its operation. He claimed that the true owner of the mine was Phauk Chanthy, deputy commander of the provincial military police force.
Mr. Chanthy, however, said that he too was not involved in running the mine, but added that he did know Mr. Mo, one of the RCAF officers.
“Chhum Mo is a colonel from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and he’s a bodyguard of brother Pol Saroeun,” he said. “He exploits gold mines in that area.”