A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Ministry findings hint at illegal gold mining in Ratanakkiri

Wed, 25 May 2016 ppp
Yesenia Amaro

An investigating team from the Ministry of Mines and Energy has concluded that evidence at Chhay Ching Heang Group’s operations in Ratanakkiri province seemingly points to illegal gold mining, though lab results from minerals extracted by the company are still pending, according to a ministry official.

The team has yet to submit a written report to their superiors at the ministry, but consulted with ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara verbally and said they were “certain the company’s operations were not in accordance [to the ministry’s] licence”, which does not allow for gold mining.

“Based on observations at the site, the team indicated the company is operating to extract gold,” Saktheara said. But “we need to collect more evidence before we jump to conclusions”.

The owner of the company, through representative Kim Srun, would only say that the company is licensed.

However, other seeming irregularities surrounding the case still linger, including possible internal issues within the ministry.

Chhay Ching Heang Group was issued a licence by the ministry for sand dredging on May 11, but the company had begun to operate at the Sesan River before that date, Saktheara said.

After the ministry received a complaint of possible gold mining and asked its provincial counterpart to send a team to examine the site, officials discovered on their arrival the company had suspended its operation, raising questions as to whether anybody warned the company, Saktheara said.

“The company will have to clarify a number of issues, and one of them is why it suspended the operation,” he said.

Officials haven’t conducted a geological assessment of the mineralisation in the area, but based on a rough observation, it’s not sufficient for an industrial scale operation of gold mining, Saktheara said.

The ministry will conduct an internal review to examine if standard protocol was followed when the sand dredging licence was issued, Saktheara said. Under protocol, the ministry sends a team to conduct an assessment of the area prior to issuing a licence to see if there are more resources in the area.

“We need to look at the process again,” he said. “We need to look at whether they did their job properly.”

The company could have its licence suspended or revoked and the case could go to court. The ministry has prepared a legal team to review this case once all evidence is gathered.

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