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Illegal Mining Continues in Ratanakiri

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Despite claims from local authorities that illegal mining in Ratanakiri province’s Borkeo district had been stopped, more than 100 people have been seen continuing to mine the area.   
Miners, most of them from Kampong Cham, Prey Veng and Kampong Thom provinces, were seen digging in rubber plantation fields in Borkeo district. Police and provincial mining officials told reporters they stopped the mining business and had “educated” illegal miners, local media outlet ThmeyThmey reported.
Borkeo district deputy police chief Saing Sok defended his actions, telling Khmer Times yesterday that the number of people digging mines was down since strict procedures from the mine ministry took affect after authorities “educated” them.
“The mine diggers have been digging and doing other activities for years on abandoned land or on rubber plantations,” Mr. Sok said. “After a search, we do not see the large numbers of illegal mine diggings anymore.”
ThmeyThmey reported the illegal miners were hired by land and rubber plantation owners and were not being paid. They were given no tools and asked to use traditional methods to unearth valuable minerals, with the land owners offering them a cut of whatever they managed to find. Spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy Meng Saktheara said the ministry had not received any reports of mining activity in Ratanakiri province.
The ministry then refuted its own previous statement, claiming there were anywhere from 100 to 150 miners remaining, but it was only being done on legally-licensed land.
“If we found that the rubber plantation owners hired people to dig mines underground, they will have to face the law,” Mr. Saktheara said, flip-flopping back to his original sentiment.
Even with widespread efforts by the government to cut down on small-time miners, Mr. Sok said his local police force could not effectively control the massive amount of illegal mining going on in the area, refuting his own earlier comments about a slowdown in mining activity.  
“With these cases, they dig in hidden areas. I don’t exactly know where because there are plenty of mine pits…and if we find we will stop them and educate them,” he said.
Mine accidents are frequent in Borkeo district due to the lack of regulations and proper equipment needed to safely dig in certain areas. Mines often collapse when hundreds of people gather in a single spot to search for precious materials, Mr. Sok said.

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