Cambodia's Gold Lures Foreign Investment
Source: AFP, Suy Se (6/27/11)
"Big mining likely to move in to the nation's 'Gold Forest,' displacing illegal prospectors."
Squinting in the harsh midday sun, Ry Kuok emerges slowly with a bag of rocks on his back from a hand-dug mine in a remote corner of Cambodia known as the "Gold Forest."
He's one of hundreds of prospectors searching for the yellow metal in the isolated village of O'Clor in northeast Mondulkiri province, where 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 $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, 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 mining industry, leaving no room for illegal prospectors.
"I don't expect we can mine here for much longer," said Kuok as he sifted through his dirty rocks looking for any glints of gold.
"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 extent of the nation's gold assets remains unclear.
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, the "Gold Forest," and is a treacherous five-hour drive from the province's main town, Sen Monorom.