Mines Ministry officials over the weekend expanded their compliance push against mining operators to Battambang province’s Phnom Proek district following the death of 13 people Kratie province last month, which villagers blamed on gold-mining run-off but the government pinned on herbicides and tainted wine.
Soy Ratana, deputy chief of Phnom Proek district police, said that five facilities were found to have irregularities involving the use of dangerous chemicals.
“It was a joint-force operation, we went in with the military police, provincial departments of environment, mining and industry,” Mr Ratana said. “One was found to be licensed, but the other four were built without permission and all of them used dangerous substances.”
“We destroyed two of the five facilities and the others are waiting for a decision from the joint forces regarding what to do next,” he said, adding that the two-day operation was conducted in the entirety of Phnom Proek district.
According to an unnamed military police officer, the authorities found 209 containers of acid, one small bag of semi-finished mining powder, 18 bags of lime, 18 bags of ammonia nitrate and 25 containers of kyanite.
Heng Saihong, a provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that locals have known for years about gold mining in the district and that they have been negatively affected.
“The harm has been felt by locals but it has never been solved. We don’t usually get complaints from villagers but they did complain when we went down to their community,” Mr Saihong said. “First, explosions affect their farmland and second, poisons cause their animals to die.”
Mr Saihong said that there was a lack of attention paid by the authorities prior to extensive media coverage of the poisoning case that left 13 people dead in Kratie’s Chetr Borei district, where water from Prek Ter stream was contaminated.
“Now we’re finally seeing action from our competent authorities,” Mr Saihong said. “It happened after people started complaining on Facebook or in person.”
Nearly 300 villagers fell ill in Chetr Borei district last month during the fatal poisoning case. The government blamed herbicide run-off into the stream water and methanol-laced rice wine.
However, officials from the Mines and Environment Ministries were deployed to investigate mining operations upstream in Mondolkiri province following theories from villagers that gold mining run-off was to blame.