Waste From Chinese Gold Mines Sickens Villagers, Kills Livestock and Fish in Cambodia

A river polluted by run-off from mine waste in Cambodia's Kratie province is shown in an undated photo.

Villagers in Cambodia’s Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces are voicing fears for their health following the release into rivers of toxic waste from Chinese gold mines that has sickened local residents and killed livestock and fish, local sources say.

Rong Cheng, a Chinese-owned company located in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district and protected by armed guards, is among the companies blamed for the pollution, sources said.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, local villager Saing Sary said that chemical run-off released by Rong Cheng has killed fish in nearby streams, and that cows and buffaloes have also died.

“My son was catching fish [in the polluted water], and his face and body became swollen,” he said. “Also, at least four to ten cows died, and because we could not sell their meat, we left them to decompose.”

Villagers in the district are losing their livelihoods but are afraid to stand up to the six Chinese companies that operate there, while authorities close down the smaller mines run by Cambodians but leave the Chinese companies alone, he said.

“We are sad because our animals are being killed,” he added.

Also speaking to RFA, another villager said that Chinese companies mining in the district have cut down villagers’ trees while building roads through the area, and appear to have been left by local authorities to do whatever they like.

“The authorities have closed down Cambodian mines, but allow the Chinese companies to continue to operate,” he said.

Calls to Rong Cheng and to Mondulkiri provincial spokesperson Moeung Sochantha rang unanswered this week.

'Another violation of their rights'

Speaking to RFA, Eang Mengly—provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—said that authorities have failed to investigate reports of contamination and won’t crack down on companies that have violated their agreements not to pollute.

“If companies continue to cause negative impacts in the area, this will affect the villagers, and they will suffer every day,” he said.

“This is another violation of their human rights.”

In May 2018, hundreds of villagers were sickened and more than a dozen killed in Kratie and Mondulkiri when toxic substances including chromium and cyanide used to flush gold mines were improperly handled and seeped into a river, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

U.S.-based advocacy group Water.org has reported that around four million Cambodians lack access to clean water, while some six million lack access to proper sanitation. Among those who face a shortage of clean water, some 80 percent live in rural areas of the country, the group said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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