Community miners work in Mondulkiri’s Poutung village in 2015. The community’s request for permission to expand their mines was denied again by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Community miners work in Mondulkiri’s Poutung village in 2015. The community’s request for permission to expand their mines was denied again by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Kimberley McCosker

Mining expansion outlawed

A mining community in Mondulkiri will not be allowed to expand due to safety concerns, according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

More than 960 families from Poutung village in Keo Seima district sent a letter to the prime minister’s cabinet via Mondulkiri Provincial Governor Svay Sam Eang last month seeking permission to extend their mining shafts beyond the maximum allowed depth of 20 metres underground.

The families are part of the Chung Phlas mining community, the first and only illegal mine operation in the country to be given legal status in 2015 in an effort to reform the industry.

Now, however, the community claims that there is no more gold left at the current depth.

Un Chheang Lim, deputy chief of the Chung Phlas community, said the miners have years of experience from Chinese mining companies in the provinces.

“If the ministry permitted [us to expand the mine], it would help reduce Cambodians working abroad,” Lim said.

But Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman Yos Monirath said officials plan to turn down the group’s request for the second time due to their lack of technical expertise in deep underground mining, and citing a number of recent accidents in Kratie province.

“They just dig down into the ground without techniques. They just do it as they want to and it is very dangerous,” Monirath said.

Monirath said that small-scale mines like the one in Chung Phlas often dig shafts without installing supporting pillars or other structures.

In addition, he said, mining exposes workers to toxic levels of copper dust and the Chung Phlas mine does not have a ventilation system.

“The ministry’s experts do not dare to inspect the holes because it is like risking your life,” he said.

Monirath suggested that Chung Phlas community members look for other job opportunities rather than expanding the mines.

Illegal mining accidents are common in Cambodia. Last week, a makeshift gold mineshaft in Kratie province collapsed, leaving three men missing. As of yesterday, they had not been found.

The month before, another miner had been killed in the same district in a similar incident.

Also in August, two miners – one a 15-year-old boy – died in Ratanakkiri province after a mineshaft collapsed on top of them.

And in January, a gem miner, also from Ratanakkiri, was killed in the same manner.