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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs         25  June 2011

Foreigners push Cambodians out of gold rush

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In the isolated Cambodian village of O’Clor in northeast Mondulkiri province, a modern-day gold rush is threatened by the arrival of foreign mining giants.

On a good day, the 29-year-old can earn about US$12.50. Not bad in a country where a third of the population survives on less than a dollar a day.

The work is dangerous, difficult — and completely illegal.

Carried out by tens of thousands of Cambodians across the impoverished country, the practice has been quietly tolerated by the government for decades.

But that is about to change as companies move in and invest millions of dollars to develop a gold mining industry, leaving no room for illegal prospectors.

“I don’t expect we can mine here for much longer,” said Kuok. “We have been told that a company has bought the area and we are not allowed to dig deeper tunnels.”

Cambodia is known to host at least 19 gold deposits that have attracted the interest of mining firms from Australia, China, South Korea and Vietnam.

Industry experts estimate the country is about five years away from large-scale gold extraction, but the true extent of the nation's gold assets remains unclear.

In what was hailed as a promising discovery, Australian miner OZ Minerals last year announced a 605,000-ounce gold find in Mondulkiri province. But it recently said further drilling projects had disappointed.

Even so, Richard Stanger, president of the Cambodian Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, said the mining industry “could be a major contribution to the economy of Cambodia in the future.”

The illegal O’Clor mine is located in Prey Meas, which translates as the “Gold Forest,” and is a treacherous five-hour drive from the province’s main town of Sen Monorom.

Stripped of its vegetation to make way for a large pit, the mining village’s brown, barren landscape is dotted with wooden shacks, piles of litter and shallow pools.


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