The Chong Phlas Gold Mining Community, where more than 800 families mine on 43 hectares of land in Mondolkiri, has been shuttered, leaving dozens without jobs.
Officials with the Environment and Mines Ministries descended upon the community in the wake of 13 people dying in Kratie province last month, which villagers there blamed on gold mining run-off from neighbouring provinces.
Although the government blamed herbicide run-off for contaminating the water that made villagers sick, the two ministries nonetheless carried out a compliance push in Mondolkiri and have now shuttered the entire community.
Yos Monirath, spokesman of the Mines Ministry, said yesterday that all mining operations inside the community, and those operating illegally outside of it, have been closed.
“We will not allow them to operate gold mining because they did not respect the conditions and the laws of gold mining,” Mr Monirath said. “We will go down there again to make sure no one is operating, because if they are, it is a mistake.”
Mr Monirath said that samples taken from the mining sites are still being tested.
Te Kimsan, director of the mining community, whose license expired late last month, said yesterday that the community needs the government to renew its license and allow miners to get back to work.
“We depend on this occupation for our incomes, so if we do not have these jobs, we will not have rice to eat,” said Mr Kimsan.
Chan Sam Ol, a 41-year-old gold miner from the community, said the community was granted a communal license in 2015, when all miners began following the law.
“I began gold mining in 2003, but it was illegal,” he said. “But in 2015 we gained the license and began following the laws.”
“I think that the poisoning case in Kratie province is not related with the community,” Mr Sam Ol added. “I hope the government changes its mind and extends our license because the government should help its people because we depend on gold mining to live; if the government does not allow villagers to mine, they will go work abroad.”
Ly Seang Leng, another gold miner from the community, said no one was using dangerous chemicals for their work as alleged by officials.
“If my gold mining place has chemical substances, I dare to sacrifice my life,” Mr Seang Leng.
Mr Kimsan, the community director, added that families are facing hardship now that they are out of work following the closure of their mines.
“Now our community has been facing serious problems because our gold mining operations were closed,” Mr Kimsan said. “Our license expired on May 23, and we do not know whether we will be able to get it renewed.”