About 300 Bunong and Khmer villagers in Mondolkiri province’s Keo Seima district protested outside their local commune office on Thursday, demanding that authorities refuse to grant a license to a mining company they said had been illegally extracting gold in the area for years, polluting their land.
The villagers accuse the company, Chinese-owned Rong Cheng Industrial Investment, of having mined illegally between 2004 and 2013 in Chung Phlas commune. On Monday, after company officials visited the area accompanied by local authorities and officials from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, residents worried that the company would be granted an official license to mine, according to Seng Sovanda, a 45-year-old protester and artisanal gold miner.
“We protested this morning because we don’t want this mining company’s presence,” he said.
“Our indigenous and Khmer people here have suffered enough from this mining company conducting illegal mining exploitation by flowing chemicals into the natural stream, causing villagers’ cattle to die.”
According to commune chief Leat Limkun, who was part of the delegation that went to the proposed mining site on Monday, the three-hour protest ended peacefully after local authorities promised to share the protesters’ concerns with higher-level officials.
“The protesters say that they do not need the mining company because the company will pollute the environment and their livelihood,” he said.
“Villagers, of course, have suffered from illegal mining operations” in the past, he added.
Mr. Limkun said the company operating in the area previously was not Rong Cheng, but a Chinese-owned firm called Chung Cheng, which was granted a license in 2004 to conduct a feasibility study for a mine. In 2012, the government froze its activities after finding that it had been exploring for gold illegally, he said.
However, Mr. Limkun noted that Chung Cheng and Rong Cheng had the same employees.
“It is a new company, but all the people are the same people who used to work for the old company,” he said.