Cambodia Gold Mine News Prompts Pollution Concerns

Villagers cite earlier cases of injuries and deaths of humans and livestock caused by polluted water sources.

Cambodia Gold Mine News Prompts Pollution Concerns

News that an industrial-scale gold mine will launch operations this month in eastern Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province has raised local fears in a region already hit by widespread pollution from toxic waste, sources say.

In a June 10 statement, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Australian-owned Renaissance Minerals will begin manufacturing gold in Mondulkiri starting June 21, producing an average of three tonnes of pure gold per year in its first eight years of operation.

Cambodia is expected to generate gross revenue of $185 million per year from the project, with an estimated $40 million in excise and other taxes going each year into the national treasury to be used for “the development of the nation’s economy and society,” Hun Sen said.

Indigenous people living in Mondukiri are urging government authorities to be cautious in granting concessions for mining in the province, though, citing a May 2018 incident in which hundreds of villagers were sickened and more than a dozen killed when toxic substances including cyanide used to flush gold mines were improperly handled and seeped into a local river. Hundreds of cattle also died.

Rong Cheng, a Chinese-owned company located in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district and still in operation, was among the companies blamed for the pollution, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Speaking to RFA on June 14, Roeung Phlom—a member of Mondulkiri’s Phnong ethnic minority community network—said that Cambodia’s government should carry out thorough studies before allowing companies to mine in the province.

“I request the government to conduct proper studies and research so that mining will not affect local residents with regard to their water consumption or the natural resources in the forest that people rely on,” Roeung Phlom said.

“In the past, mining operations have resulted in landslides, and people were poisoned by drinking water that was poisoned by waste from the gold mines,” she said.

“The government should guarantee there will be no polluting of the soil or air.”

Roads blocked, sanctuaries threatened

Some of the mining companies invested in Mondulkiri have now blocked key roads in the Keo Seima district, creating obstacles to traffic, Kroeung Tola—an advisor to the Phnong ethnic community network—said, also speaking to RFA.

Areas now being explored for minerals also lie between the Keo Seima wildlife sanctuary and the Phnom Penh wildlife sanctuary, posing possible hazards to wild elephants and other animals in their own habitat and natural surroundings, Kroeung Tola said.

Mining companies and Cambodian authorities should release social and environmental impact assessments for projects to the public, and should allow local residents to take part in decision-making processes, he said.

“The government should take stringent measures rather than intermittent ones and should form specific plans, because these things affect local livelihoods,” Kroeung Tola said, adding, “I remain concerned over the safety and health of our local people.”

Attempts to reach Sorn Sarom, spokesperson for Mondulkiri province, and Svay Sam Eang, provincial governor, were unsuccessful on June 14.

Svay Sam Eang has said in the past that gold mining investments will create more revenue for the country’s economy and for Mondulkiri, and that two companies in particular—the Chinese-owned Rong Cheng and Australian–owned Renaissance Minerals—have helped build wells, hospitals, roads, and bridges in the province.

Call for transparency

Cambodia’s government should be transparent in its handling of revenue from the mining industry, though, said Heng Kimhong, program manager for research and advocacy for the Cambodia Youth Network.

“The government should release information to the public so that people know how much revenue, either from taxes or excise or from its own investment sharing, is being generated by the mining industry, Heng Kimhong said.

Environmental activists have voiced doubt over Hun Sen’s description of the Renaissance Minerals deal as a “victory” for Cambodia’s gold mining industry, though, saying his June 10 announcement closely followed the news that KrisEnergy—a Singapore-based oil company with projects in Cambodia—had gone bankrupt, embarrassing the government.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, founder of the local environmental group Mother Nature, called Hun Sen’s announcement on the Renaissance Minerals deal an attempt to divert attention from the collapse of KrisEnergy, with which the government had partnered to produce oil from Cambodia’s offshore reserves.

“This could be a tactic by the Hun Sen regime after experiencing such a major embarrassment over its offshore oil production. Hun Sen’s government is trying to divert public attention now by focusing on its gold mining industry,” Gonzalez-Davidson said.

Reported and translated for RFA’s Khmer Service by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Myanmar’s Youth Increasingly Look for Opportunity Abroad

Many say that there is no future for the young in junta-led Myanmar.

Myanmar’s Youth Increasingly Look for Opportunity Abroad

Myanmar’s youth are increasingly looking to move abroad in hopes of finding better opportunities, with many saying the Feb. 1 military takeover effectively killed off any hope they had in their homeland, youths told RFA.

Sources in the country said that the situation for young people was already difficult, as many with advanced degrees had been unable to find work in their field. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 made the situation even worse as many of the businesses that traditionally hire young people had to shut down.

Now with the military violently cracking down on widespread pro-democracy demonstrations and supporters of a return to a democratically elected government taking up arms, many youth would rather just leave the country and find their fortunes elsewhere.

“I learned IT only during Daw Suu’s government,” an IT professional told RFA’s Myanmar Service, referring to the ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, currently on trial in a junta court on sedition charges.

“When the good companies came in, we had to work hard to learn what we did not know before, and we were happy to get good jobs. That was why people here didn’t need to go abroad anymore. There was no need to go overseas to study,” she said.

All that changed on Feb. 1, according to the young woman.

“Now that all this has happened, it is likely that everyone will leave. It’s now so crowded at the passport office,” she said.

Another youth who recently graduated IT school said she decided to leave Myanmar because the coup crushed her hope of finding gainful employment or education.

“If this situation continues there will be no job opportunities for IT professionals in the country. Most IT companies are international companies,” she said.

“Local companies are small and are not growing significantly. Most of them support the military. If the foreign companies leave Burma, there’s no way our careers will improve,” she said, using an older name for the country.

The coup has also affected the prospects of young artists.

A filmmaker told RFA it would be impossible to achieve his goals with all the restrictions that he believes will come under junta rule.

“Since 2018, the Myanmar film industry has released really good movies, and it was only getting better since then. We young people expected that we could make good films, but now our dreams are gone,” he said.

“How will you be able to work independently in the future? Everyone loves their country and wants to work in their own country. But if you can’t work in your own country you will have to find a more suitable place,” the filmmaker said.

The father of a young engineer told RFA that the younger generation have lost any sense of direction because there was already a scarcity of jobs in Myanmar, and the situation only got worse with the COVID-19 pandemic and then the coup.

“From 2010 until now, my son had no opportunity to work as an engineer and have a job suited to his degree. He had to work as a clerk with a salary of 200,000 to 300,000 [U.S. $120 to $180] per month,” the engineer’s father said.

“Some graduates have had to work as delivery boys. Others as drivers…This economy is not good. I don’t know what they will do next. There is no future here… That’s why they are now focusing on going abroad because their lives will not be stable here,” he said.

Emigration statistics since the Feb. 1 coup have not been made available. Some Myanmar residents have fled to India or Thailand to avoid military conflict.

But while some youth are trying find ways to leave, others are staying, risking their lives for what they believe is right.

“I have been thinking about how to protect my house from the rain and sun,” a young man, speaking metaphorically about his homeland, told RFA.

“Now is the time to heal our wounds. Now is the time to face the problems of our own country again. It’s time to solve these problems ourselves. That is why I cannot turn my back on my dying homeland,” he said.

Moe Thwe, a member of the pro-democracy youth movement called Generation Wave, told RFA that most youth understand the risks of staying the country and of trying to achieve their goals overseas. She hopes they will one day return.

“This is a situation we can’t avoid. I don’t see it as a negative thing and in some cases I even encourage them to go abroad because we’ll be working with a wider international current, even with international organizations,” said Moe Thwe.

She urged Myanmar youth abroad to support their communities back home by sending money back to their families. Additionally, she called on them to share Myanmar’s story online.

“This will support the revolutionary movement in Myanmar both financially and academically… I see it as an investment for a post-revolution country,” she said.

According to figures from the World Bank, Myanmar’s employment rate for people aged 15-24 hovered around 1.5 percent before the country’s first openly contested elections in 2015. It then spiked to about 4 percent in 2017 before falling to the 1.5 percent level by 2019. Data for 2020 are not yet available.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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