An NGO report and complaints by villagers allege a Chinese firm has been mining gold inside one among Cambodia’s largest protected areas years earlier than it was license to take action.Late Cheng Mining Development was awarded an exploratory license in March 2020 spanning 15,100 hectares (37,300 acres) inside Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, and an extraction license in September 2022.Local villagers say the corporate has seemingly been working within the area since early 2019; villagers who spoke to Mongabay requested anonymity, citing fears of reprisals from the authorities.A report by the Bruno Manser Fonds and testimony from locals additionally allege the corporate’s mining actions threat contaminating waterways that villagers depend on.
*Name modified for the safety of sources who feared retributions from authorities
KAMPONG THOM, Cambodia — “The firm operates as they please. We’ve requested the authorities for assist, however they gained’t do something for us,” mentioned Bunnarith*, a lifelong resident of Snang An village within the densely forested province of Kampong Thom. “The individuals residing in Snang An stay right here in distress.”
Nestled inside Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) contained in the boundaries of the protected space, is a Chinese-owned gold mine to which Bunnarith can hint his distress.
On March 23, 2020, Late Cheng Mining Development was awarded an exploratory license spanning 15,100 hectares (37,300 acres) throughout Kampong Thom’s Sandan district, engulfing Snang An village.
Since then, the gold mining operation has solely grown after being granted a license to extract gold in September 2022, clearing extra forest inside Prey Lang, which is residence to 55 threatened species of wildlife and estimated to deal with 80% of Cambodia’s most endangered indigenous tree species.
Spanning practically 490,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) and wealthy in a various vary of fauna and flora, Prey Lang has lengthy been focused for its bountiful pure sources, to the purpose that the ecological integrity of the supposedly protected space is now threatened by unlawful logging that continues to ravage the forest.
Authorities have struggled to rein within the typically politically linked networks behind the destruction, which have exploited Prey Lang’s provide of timber, limestone, marble, gold and valuable gems by means of extractive operations that always overlap as mines give cowl to loggers.
Late Cheng is simply one of many many stress components pushing Prey Lang to the brink, however residents of Snang An alleged that the Chinese-run gold mine is encroaching on conventional farmlands and contaminating waterways.
These allegations have been revived in a report revealed in October by Bruno Manser Fonds, a Swiss nonprofit centered on tropical rainforest conservation, which alleged that Late Cheng’s mine violates quite a few legal guidelines and accused the Cambodian authorities of ignoring damaging gold mining operations inside Prey Lang.
“From an ecological perspective, open-pit mining is without doubt one of the most damaging extraction industries that exists,” mentioned Ida Theilade, an ecologist on the University of Copenhagen and one of many report’s authors. “The environmental threats of open-pit mining are well-known. Environmental destruction shouldn’t be restricted to the mining space itself — it consists of roads fragmenting a fragile rainforest ecosystem.”
The leaching ponds at Late Cheng’s mining website in Sochet commune, Kampong Thom province, pose a contamination risk to the waterways inside Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
Cyanide utilization in a ‘fragile rainforest ecosystem’
Speaking to Mongabay, Theilade detailed the report’s findings: that toxic soil heaps and cyanide leaching ponds run the danger of contaminating the Porong River, posing a risk to the well being of people and wildlife alike.
“In case leaching ponds are breached, for instance throughout heavy rains, this might have detrimental impact to aquatic life in freshwater streams and rivers downstream,” Theilade mentioned. “It would trigger severe well being points for villagers relying on downstream river water for irrigation, livestock or households. The diversion of streams by means of the mine exacerbates this risk.”
Residents helped reporters to gather water samples from streams which have been diverted by Late Cheng. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
Besides serving at the very least 5 close by villages with water for ingesting, bathing and cooking, the Porong River additionally flows into the Chinnit River, a tributary of Tonle Sap Lake, one among Cambodia’s most necessary freshwater ecosystems.
When Mongabay visited Snang An in October, enormous mounds of dust have been seen the place the streams had been redirected. Residents mentioned they have been now cautious of utilizing water from both the streams or the river that they circulation into.
“They have modified the circulation of the water in canals to make use of it for chemical processing within the mining websites,” Bunnarith mentioned. “The chemical substance flows to the Tracht and the Da [streams]. Both of those streams circulation into the Porong River.”
The gold miners have achieved this, Bunnarith mentioned, by diverting streams such because the Tracht and Da to circulation by means of the mining website, the place the water is blended with cyanide as a part of the gold leaching course of.
This has prompted main issues amongst residents of Snang An and the neighboring village of Srae Pring, the place residents blamed a mass die-off of fish within the Porong River final 12 months on Late Cheng’s mining actions; Mongabay was unable to confirm these claims.
In October, reporters acquired water samples taken from each the Tracht and Da streams, which have been then taken to a laboratory in Phnom Penh to be examined for cyanide and arsenic — one other chemical typically utilized by artisanal gold miners. Neither samples examined optimistic for arsenic, however whereas the pattern from the Tracht stream got here again adverse for cyanide, the pattern from the Da stream was discovered to include 0.01 milligrams per liter, effectively under the 0.2mg/l set as an allowable restrict by each Cambodia and the Environmental Protection Agency within the United States.
A technician from the lab the place the samples have been analyzed famous that heavy rainfall across the time the samples have been taken may have diluted the streams, however cautioned that there have been many components at work and that the pattern outcomes from October didn’t point out the water was dangerously contaminated.
The growth of Late Cheng’s gold mining operation inside Prey Lang has introduced with it widespread destruction and degradation within the protected forest, in addition to an ongoing battle with the residents of Snang An village. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
Commercial quarry in authorized quandary
While the contamination threat stays troublesome to quantify, the Bruno Manser Fonds report persistently calls into query the legality of Late Cheng’s mining operations inside Prey Lang.
The 2008 Protected Area Law outlines that mining is permissible in demarcated sustainable-use zones inside protected areas. However, there’s no such zoning inside Prey Lang.
The regulation additionally stipulates that, if Late Cheng have been working inside a sustainable-use zone, their mine would want to assist contribute to conservation of the protected space in addition to promote the requirements of residing of native communities.
Few in Snang An say the mine has contributed to bettering the communities’ requirements of residing.
Residents say that entry to the village has been restricted because it was engulfed by Late Cheng’s mining operations. Initially, they are saying, roads constructed by the corporate have been off-limits to villagers. Now, they’re in a position to make use of them, however there are two checkpoints — one manned by Ministry of Environment rangers, one other operated by a mixture of rangers and native police — to tightly management entry to each the mine and the village.
The restrictive atmosphere endured by Snang An residents since Late Cheng started operations within the village has left many on edge. Few maintain land titles acknowledged by the nationwide authorities, and residents who did communicate to Mongabay mentioned they concern their properties and farms could possibly be destroyed if gold is found on their property.
Meanwhile, the seek for gold has seen extra forest churned up annually.
“While a logged forest can regenerate, post-mining landscapes are most frequently left apocalyptic, devoid of vegetation,” Theilade mentioned. “This is in sharp dissonance to the intentions of protected space regulation.”
Late Cheng has diverted streams for cyanide leaching on the mining website, however these streams circulation into the Porong River, which itself flows into the Chinnit River – a tributary of the Tonle Sap Lake. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
The rerouting of streams and use of pure water sources for mining functions might also be in breach of Article 41 of the Protected Area Law, which forbids “[d]estroying water high quality in all varieties, poisoning, utilizing chemical substances, disposing of strong and liquid wastes into water or on land.”
If Late Cheng had performed an environmental impression evaluation that confirmed minimal injury to Prey Lang’s ecosystems or highlighted methods by which the corporate would mitigate environmental issues linked to their mine, this might seemingly match with Cambodia’s authorized framework. However, because the Bruno Manser Fonds report notes, no such research has ever been made public.
“And the EIA, if one was produced in any respect, is clearly insufficient given the environmentally-destructive actions which have already taken place inside the concession space,” the report reads. “Thus, the legality of Late Cheng’s mining concession is open to problem.”
Late Cheng Mining Development didn’t reply to detailed questions submitted by Mongabay in a letter to employees within the firm’s Phnom Penh workplace. Phone calls to numbers listed on the federal government’s enterprise registration website went unanswered, though one lady who did reply claimed to not work for Late Cheng and insisted that she had by no means heard of the corporate.
Reporters visited the provincial division of mines and power in October, the place a desk within the lobby was adorned with a big lump of gold ore. Staff confirmed that the ore was from Late Cheng’s mine, however no one was keen to reply questions concerning the potential environmental impression an increasing gold mine may have on a fragile ecosystem like Prey Lang.
When reached by telephone in November, director of the division, Lim Chantha, mentioned he was unaware as as to if an EIA had been performed. “There could be an impartial firm that performed the [environmental impact assessment], however I can’t say, it’s not my discipline,” he mentioned.
Chantha mentioned he was conscious of villagers’ complaints over the fish die-off from 2022, however maintained that when the authorities visited this 12 months, there was no such case.
He then directed reporters to a Facebook put up from the Ministry of Mines and Energy stating that officers visited the Late Cheng mining website someday in late September 2023 and located no environmental, technical or questions of safety.
On the desk, contained in the lobby by the doorway to the Kampong Thom Provincial Department of Mines and Energy, a big lump of gold ore sits on a desk. Staff confirmed the ore is from Late Cheng’s mine in Prey Lang. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
However, as no EIA is publicly out there, it’s inconceivable to know what stage of degradation or air pollution is deemed acceptable by the federal government.
No additional data was discovered within the Kampong Thom provincial division of atmosphere. Staff directed inquiries to Tob Kakada, the division’s director, however instructed Mongabay that Kakada “doesn’t like journalists” and wouldn’t share contact particulars for him or anybody else capable of communicate on the matter.
Eang Sophalleth, spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, mentioned he was nonetheless looking for data when contacted in early November. He has since not responded to additional questions put forth by Mongabay.
But in 2022, native media outlet CamboJA News reported that an organization referred to as Green Balance Environmental Consulting had performed an EIA for Late Cheng.
When contacted, employees at Green Balance Environmental Consulting would solely verify that they’d produced two EIAs for Late Cheng — one in 2021, one other in 2022 — and that no different research had been performed earlier than.
One supply concerned within the manufacturing of Late Cheng’s EIAs, who requested anonymity for concern of reprisals from the corporate, confirmed that the corporate was extracting gold as early as April 2021, previous to an EIA being performed and lengthy earlier than it was granted a license to extract in September 2022.
“Mostly [mining companies] get exploration licenses earlier than they get EIAs,” the supply mentioned, including that Late Cheng lastly determined to adjust to the regulation after the federal government threatened to close down the mining operations.
“The authorities [would have] suspended their operation, however [this didn’t happen because] they received compliant,” the supply mentioned.
Late Cheng was seemingly mining gold illegally in Prey Lang for years, with the obvious data of presidency regulators, however neither the corporate nor the authorities would touch upon the allegations.
The timeline of licenses and environmental impression assessments means that Late Cheng was seemingly working in breach of Cambodian legal guidelines. Image by Andrés Alegría / Mongabay.
Accusations of mining with no legitimate license
According a 2022 article revealed in VayoFM shortly after Late Cheng was awarded its license for extraction, the corporate is predicted to provide 180 kilograms (5,790 ounces) of gold per 12 months, paying $250,000 annually to the federal government in return. VayoFM quoted Ung Dipola, director of the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s division of mineral sources — and, coincidentally, the proprietor of Vayo Media Group — as saying that Late Cheng would start trial runs in August 2023.
However, the Bruno Manser Fonds report alleges the corporate has been extracting and refining gold at an industrial price since at the very least April 2021, some 18 months earlier than the federal government granted it a license to take action.
The report used satellite tv for pc imagery evaluation, with the authors making their evaluation based mostly on the buildings, shafts and supporting infrastructure seen in 2021 and 2022.
Residents put the beginning of commercial mining in Prey Lang again even additional, to earlier than Late Cheng’s preliminary license for exploration was awarded in March 2020.
According to Socheat*, a resident of Sandan district who requested neither his actual title nor his village be revealed as a result of he had already been in bother with native authorities for talking out in opposition to the gold mine and subsequent deforestation, Late Cheng’s involvement seemingly started someday early in 2019.
“We don’t know when the mine first opened, however it was shut down in 2018,” he mentioned of an artisanal gold mine that was working the place Late Cheng now has a mining concession. “Then 4 or 5 months later, in 2019, it reopened once more, however a lot greater than earlier than.”
When the report’s authors visited this artisanal mine in December 2018, they have been instructed it was Chinese-owned. By their second go to in May 2019, the mine had expanded considerably, with roads and dormitories having been constructed, though the authors have been unable to establish the mine’s possession. This growth is seen in satellite tv for pc imagery, displaying minimal change between January and December 2018, earlier than fast improvement swept the world by means of the primary 4 months of 2019, suggesting that the mine had moved past a small-scale artisanal operation.
While the Bruno Manser Fonds report stopped in need of accusing Late Cheng of co-opting the artisanal mine, it does notice that this operation was identified domestically as “the Chinese mine” when the authors visited in 2018 and 2019. It additionally famous that “the Chinese mine” later grew to become the websites that Late Cheng would go on to mine in 2020 and have been then, in 2021, listed as areas that the corporate would discover in its first EIA, in line with paperwork seen by Mongabay.
Dipola of the Ministry of Mines and Energy didn’t reply to a number of telephone calls and messages from reporters.
Chantha of the provincial division of mines and power rejected the claims made by the Bruno Manser Fonds report, stating “This shouldn’t be true,” however refusing to elaborate.
Despite the existence of a complete village inside their mining website, entry to areas now managed by Late Cheng are closely restricted, however the environmental destruction inside a protected space is seen throughout the positioning. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
A well-connected risk to Prey Lang and its residents
Despite Late Cheng’s obvious breach of rules, satellite tv for pc imagery exhibits that the land utilized by the corporate for mining and roads connecting the mining websites expanded from roughly 1,900 hectares to barely greater than 4,200 hectares (4,700 to 10,400 acres) between January and November 2023.
Many of the leaching ponds seen within the northwest of the concession now spill over the concession’s boundaries into the protected Prey Lang forest. Similarly, over the course of this 12 months, roads have snaked out from the mining websites, crossing the northeast and southeast boundaries of the unique mining concession, trespassing deeper into beforehand undisturbed forest.
It’s unclear whether or not the corporate’s concession has modified for the reason that 2022 license for extraction and refinement was issued, as no map was included with the brand new license. But Late Cheng’s operations at the moment are increasing out into an adjoining mining concession that was awarded to Cambodian K88 Industry on March 5, 2020 — 18 days after Late Cheng’s exploratory license was issued.
Global Forest Watch information exhibits how deforestation across the areas granted for exploration to Late Cheng and Cambodian K88 Industry has unfold into Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, mainland Southeast Asia’s largest lowland rainforest. Image by Andrés Alegría / Mongabay.
Chun You, deputy director-general of the Ministry of National Defense’s Technical Material Department, is listed because the chair of Cambodian K88 Industry in Ministry of Commerce information.
You shouldn’t be solely a senior navy official, he additionally seems to be a enterprise associate of Zhao Yingming, the Chinese nationwide who chairs Late Cheng. Together, the pair sit on the board of Phnom Penh Zhe Long Mining Development, and likewise managed Phnom Penh Zhe Long Construction Development till Zhao left in 2019 and included Late Cheng two months later.
Zhao seems to have even higher-ranking connections than You. He’s been photographed with Prime Minister Hun Manet, previous to his premiership, in addition to Hing Bunheang, former commander of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, a navy unit infamous for human rights abuses.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Late Cheng’s different administrators embody Zhao’s Cambodian spouse, Soeun Pisey, in addition to Pov Kai Jie, Pov Shang Bin and Pov Yi Shang, three Chinese nationals who acquired Cambodian citizenship in 2020 and adjusted their names after donating roughly $300,000 every to the Cambodian authorities.
It is probably going that Late Cheng can be capable of function inside Cambodian K88 Industry’s mining concession, given the enterprise ties shared by the 2 firms’ administrators. Image by Andrés Alegría / Mongabay.
‘No profit’ and no finish in sight
The politically linked make-up of Late Cheng’s board is probably one cause why the mining website is so closely guarded by each native authorities and Chinese employees, regardless of the existence of a complete village within the coronary heart of the mining website.
In December 2021, Zhao was photographed with a police official from Kampong Thom, having donated cement to the police station, additional corroborating accounts from Snang An residents that Late Cheng enjoys a comfy relationship with native officers.
“There are legal guidelines governing public areas and personal firms, however to be sincere, if the authorities wish to mistreat us, then they’ll,” Socheat mentioned.
Few residents of Snang An village would communicate to Mongabay after Late Cheng, at the side of native authorities, punished villagers for chatting with native media concerning the impression the gold mine has had on their lives. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
As such, few residents of Snang An have been keen to talk publicly in opposition to the alleged abuses and the continued environmental destruction. These fears have been compounded by an incident involving reporters from native media in October.
“Another international reporter was right here about two weeks in the past [in late October]. He had a giant digicam on his shoulder, he was taking photographs publicly when the [Ministry of Environment] rangers and the Chinese firm representatives arrived,” Socheat mentioned. “It precipitated numerous issues.”
According to Socheat, and later corroborated by Bunnarith in Snang An, native police arrived on the home of a villager who had been seen talking with native media and escorted the villager to Late Cheng’s workplace inside the mining website.
Here, Socheat and Bunnarith mentioned, the villager was threatened by firm representatives for bringing adverse media consideration to the gold mine.
The current slew of reports protection exposing the environmental degradation being wrought upon the group of Snang An by Late Cheng’s gold mine has been met by defensive denials from the federal government. Following the publication of the Bruno Manser Fonds report in October, pro-government media have been fast to disclaim allegations of Late Cheng’s wrongdoing in a bid to whitewash the corporate’s picture.
Despite obvious violations of quite a few Cambodian legal guidelines, the continued grievances of Cambodian residents and the rampant destruction of a protected forest, Late Cheng appears to take pleasure in an impunity that has left residents of Snang An with little hope for the longer term.
“We requested them to cease as a result of they have been destroying the village,” Bunnarith mentioned. “But all the positioning managers are Chinese so after we attempt to talk, they can not perceive us and we don’t perceive them.”
“There’s been no profit to the group. Instead of advantages, the mine kills our livestock and pollutes our water,” he added. “We misplaced our land, it’s all firm land now.”
Leaching ponds at Late Cheng’s gold mine in Prey Lang introduce poisonous chemical compounds, pushing residents to keep away from utilizing water from the close by rivers for concern of contamination. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
Banner picture: The open-pit mine inside Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the vital vital remaining forests in Cambodia, is operated by well-connected Chinese nationals and could also be in breach of quite a few Cambodian legal guidelines. Image by Gerald Flynn / Mongabay.
China’s Demand For Resources, Conservation, Deforestation, Forest Destruction, Forests, Global Trade, Gold Mining, Illegal Mining, Indigenous Communities, Land Conflict, Land Grabbing, Land Rights, Mining, Natural Resources, Protected Areas, Rainforest Deforestation, Rainforest Destruction, Rainforest Logging, Rainforest Mining, Resource Conflict