By Pech Sotheary
Rattanakiri, Cambodia, September 23, 2016
Rattanakiri provincial authorities were urged by a National Assembly commission yesterday to take swift action against illegal gem mining, which they blamed on infrastructure damage and tax revenue loss.
Speaking after a meeting with provincial authorities at the provincial hall, opposition member Heng Danaro said the province’s tourism sites were being made increasingly difficult to visit due to road and bridge damage caused by illegal mining operations.
“Please take action to prevent illegal mining. The mining benefits only the people doing it, with any profits going to them only, but when they cause damage it affects common interests in the whole province,” he said.
He noted that he had seen a number of illegal gem mining operations taking place in rubber plantations and that the associated infrastructure damage would affect tourism.
“[Instead] I hope that tourism will be doubled, with local organizations at tourist sites to ensure the economic potential.”
Deputy provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun acknowledged the bad state of the roads, but stressed that authorities were renovating what they could, given budgetary issues.
Rather than mining being to blame for the damage, he said illegal logging was to blame instead. Local communities have received instruction on the laws governing mining, which has taken place in the province since the French colonial era.
For example, he explained that community mines were not allowed to be deeper than 14 meters, but noted that more needs to be done.
Chhay Thy, a provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, welcomed the call to control the illegal gem mining as it is poor communities that suffer most from the infrastructure damage.
“So far, I found that in areas where there is illegal gem mining, there are some serious environmental impacts, especially those near streams and rivers. In the rainy season, mining run-off contaminates the water and means they can’t use it.
“Local police efforts have been ineffective, and corruption is rife in some cases, while in others apathy is more to blame – it seems they don’t care about the law.”