The Cambodian government is threatening to burn the homes of almost 100 families who are living at the site of a gold deposit recently discovered by an Australian mining company.
The gold deposit that both exploration company OzMinerals and the Cambodian government are excited about lies in the remote Mondulkiri province, 500 kilometres from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.
After 17 years of exploration the government believes this could be the biggest find so far in Cambodia, yielding at least 600,000 ounces of gold.
But even in sparsely populated Mondulkiri, people are in the way.
“We’ve been told to move out immediately and return to where we came from”, says Sear Kim Yean, a resident and representative of 95 families who are living on and around the exploration site.
The project is in its infancy and will not be viable as a mine unless OzMinerals can do more small scale drilling and sampling to see if it can yield more than two million ounces of gold.
The company says the local people do not have to move for the continuing exploration to take place, but as part of a larger government plan to clean up illegal mining, logging and poaching they have been told to go.
“We have no idea where to go,” said Sear Kim Yean. “We have no money. They threatened to burn our homes down if we don’t move, but so far nothing like that has happened. They offered us no compensation.”
But the government says most of those living in the area do not deserve help because they are opportunists who have moved into the area to mine illegally and they are not locals.
“It is true that the authority has requested people who live there to move out. There are 95 families that need to be relocated; only five people are Mondulkiri people with proper documents. The rest have migrated from other provinces,” said district chief Len Vanna.
The government says the residents have deliberately built their homes on land owned by OzMinerals and will not be compensated, and if they do not move the government will burn their homes or bulldoze them.
“If they are not moving, we will have to use legal procedure to move them,” Mr Vanna said.
The Cambodian government is notorious for forcibly evicting residents to make way for development.
The United Nations has repeatedly raised concerns about tens of thousands of people who have been evicted in recent years with lack of due process, inadequate compensation and the excessive use of force.
Melbourne based OzMinerals says it has urged local authorities to treat the residents with respect and dignity.