The Mondulkiri provincial governor has sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to convince the Mines and Energy Ministry to grant villagers permission to dig for gold at depths deeper than 20 metres in Keo Seima district.
Svay Sam Eang said in his September 7 letter to Mr Hun Sen that 961 families in Chong Plas commune had been banned from digging deeper than 20 metres since 2015, when the majority of 2,000 hectares of land was given to the Rong Cheeng company.
The families were allotted 43 hectares then for small-scale, independent gold-mining, and told not to dig below 20 metres for their own safety because they lacked the technical standards employed by large companies.
“The villagers depend on the mining for their livelihoods and at depths of only 20 metres, they cannot find any more gold,” said Mr San Eang, who has asked the ministry to lift the ban twice before.
“Their businesses are not profitable any more,” he added.
Oun Chheang Lim, a community chief in Chong Plas commune, said villagers needed to dig deeper than 20 metres to support their families.
“We’ve been doing this business for 30 years,” he said.
“We know how to do it without it being dangerous. But since the ministry issued the greater than 20-metre ban, business is down and some villagers have left to find work abroad.”
San Darith, director of the provincial mines department, said the ministry would probably not reverse its stance.
“The villagers do not have the capacity to dig deeper safely,” he said.
“They always ask to dig mines deeper than 20 metres, but if an accident happens, what then? Who will be responsible if someone dies?”