Cambodia’s Efforts Against Illegal Gold Mining Plus Recent Cooperation Between Indonesia and the U.S. in Minerals and Metals

Illegal mining is a grim reality in the gold industry, and it has been for quite some time. In recent years, though, organizations have been cracking down on illegal mining operations to support local communities, their workers, and the environment. In the Prey Lang area of Cambodia, the Kratie Provincial Department of Mines and Energy, with the support of local authorities, recently inspected five illegal mining sites, instructing them to halt operations immediately with the threat of legal consequences if any activities continued.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has attempted to shut down these activities in the past but faced numerous difficulties given the area’s dense forest and rugged terrain. The Ministry of Mines and Energy’s primary goal in shutting down the operations is to protect the local environment, as illegal mining often involves harmful practices, like mercury dumping in local river sources and deforestation.

“Normally, if we receive information from local people on illegal mining activity, we dispatch officers immediately to hunt them down and make arrests,” Sren Sophea, the Sambo district police chief, explained. “When we apprehend them we inform them they are involved in a criminal activity, which is also detrimental to the environment and if they continue, legal action will be taken against them.”

An NGO in Cambodia released a complaint stating that the illegal gold mining activities in Cambodia are in one of the nation’s protected wildlife areas. According to this source, Late Cheng Mining Development received an exploratory license back in March 2020 covering 37,300 acres of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary and an extraction license in late 2022. Despite these dates, local villagers claim that the company has operated in the area since 2019 or earlier.

Prey Lang contains over 55 threatened wildlife species, including some of the nation’s most endangered species of indigenous trees. “Spanning nearly 490,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) and rich in a diverse range of fauna and flora, Prey Lang has long been targeted for its bountiful natural resources, to the point that the ecological integrity of the supposedly protected area is now threatened by illegal logging that continues to ravage the forest,” Gerald Flynn and Vutha Srey, reporters from Mongabay, explain.

Late Cheng is just one of numerous mining developments connected to a deeper network of illegal activities within the Prey Lang area. According to sources, the destructive forces have exploited the area’s timber, marble, limestone, and, of course, gold supplies. Along with deforestation and destruction, the illegal facilities are contaminating water sources and harming local communities.

Given all these ramifications, it makes sense that the Ministry of Mines and Energy is doing everything it can to crack down on the illicit activities. While Late Cheng may currently have licenses to operate in the area, it still does not follow the legal requirements outlining environmental protection.

“And the EIA, if one was produced at all, is clearly inadequate given the environmentally destructive activities that have already taken place within the concession area,” a Bruno Manser Fonds report reads. “Thus, the legality of Late Cheng’s mining concession is open to challenge.”

Clearly, Cambodia has a way to go before fully resolving its illegal mining operations, though, luckily, it’s actively taking steps to amend the current harmful practices. In other recent news, Indonesia and the U.S. have taken steps to explore a future partnership in minerals and metals with the goal of collaborating in the production of electric vehicle batteries.

In mid-November, when President Joko Widodo visited the U.S., the two nations elevated the U.S.-Indonesia partnership to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” offering potential developments in the near future. Indonesia has abundant nickel reserves, making it vital to the global EV industry. The nation aims to be one of the top three EV battery producers by 2027, as global electric battery demand reaches one-third of total nickel demand by 2030.

While this may sound like a premier deal for the U.S., government officials are still cautious about providing a backdoor to Chinese corporations that operate Indonesia’s nickel industry. Given the shaky relationship between the U.S. and China, the monetary opportunity may not outweigh the concept of depending on China for clean energy supplies.

Regardless of how the deal pans out, the simple concept shows progressive movement in the EV industry, which bodes well for all metals, including gold. With the potential cooperation between the U.S. and Indonesia and the increased efforts on Cambodia’s end, we’re seeing excellent progress in the gold industry.

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