Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Four People Killed in Unauthorized Gold Mine Collapse in Kampong Thom

A photograph shared by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith shows the alleged area where a mining pit collapsed and killed four workers in Kampong Thom province on May 4, 2023. (Information Minister Khieu Kanharith’s Facebook)
A photograph shared by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith shows the alleged area where a mining pit collapsed and killed four workers in Kampong Thom province on May 4, 2023. (Information Minister Khieu Kanharith’s Facebook)

Four gold miners working in an unauthorized mine died following a cave-in on Thursday in Kampong Thom province’s Sre Pring village in Sochet commune.

The mine was a small, unlicensed business and three of the victims were cousin’s of the owner, a Cambodian man and resident of Srey Pring named Svay Phoeun, according to village chief Sok Heng.

“This business is a family business and there is no authorized permit…but because of family conditions they need to work at the risk of finding money,” Heng said, claiming authorities had warned the family of the risks. 

Around 20 families are engaged in unauthorized gold mining in the area. There are many artisanal gold mining operations in the village’s Sandan District, while two large Chinese-owned companies recently received licenses to conduct gold mining operations in the protected Prey Lang forest nearby. Most residents in the area have not received land titles for land they have lived and farmed in the area for years.

Referring to artisanal mining operations, Heng said: “These businesses might close because the provincial governor came here, but he did not say anything.”

There had been several days of heavy rain in the lead-up to the accident, but Sochet commune resident Ven Ti said that a pump had malfunctioned and sand had collapsed in the shallow pit where the miners were working.

“Four of them [the victims] and the boss went to the ground of the pit to collect the gold, when it was nearly lunchtime the gold mining owner went to cook and at that time the pit collapsed, suddenly no one can help those four people in the pit, that’s why they died,” said Ti, according to what she has heard.

Most miners make their primary income from farming but used gold mining to make extra money, Ti said. The family-run mine pit had been operating for a long time before the accident and this was the first accident she could recall, Ti added.

“People work a lot after in between the farming season, but just get some money support in their daily life and they can earn 1 million riel a month or more than that,” Ti said.

Four gold miners working in an unauthorized mine died following a cave-in on Thursday in Kampong Thom province’s Sre Pring village in Sochet commune.

Nhem Sarath, coordinator for human rights NGO Adhoc in Kampong Thom province, said that those involved must be held accountable and provide compensation to victim’s families. Sarath claimed authorities should prevent unauthorized gold mines from operating.

“First, the business owner has to be held accountable because his business is illegal and secondly, he has to be held accountable for his negligence,” Sarath said.

Kampong Thom provincial police chief Meny Ly did not respond to phone calls for the comment and did not answer via Telegram chat. 

Provincial governor Ngoun Ratanak did not respond to requests for comment.

Two of the miners were from Sandan district and another lived in Pursat province.

“I don’t know about the compensation but what I know is that the gold mining owner already brought the dead body to their hometown,” Heng said.

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