Wildlife Alliance, Friday, April 8, 2011 - - In a huge reversal, Cambodian Prime Minister Sandech Hun Sen has announced that a strip mine previously approved in the heart of an elephant corridor in the Southern Cardamom Mountains will not go forward.
On Friday morning, the Council of Ministers—essentially the executive branch of the Cambodian government—met in a full session. According to a press release issued after that meeting, Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed the full session and announced that a 4,400 hectare titanium mine would not be permitted to go ahead.
“Due to the concerns of the impact on the environment, biodiversity and local livelihoods [Prime Minister] Hun Sen has announced to not permit the titanium mining operation that is located in Koh Kong province,” the press release read.
Wildlife Alliance has been combating this titanium mine proposed by United Khmer Group since the very beginning. In addition to being located in dense evergreen rainforest, the strip mine was directly in the midst of a thriving ecotourism project we started by Wildlife Alliance in 2007. The government originally approved the mine in February of this year, so this latest announcement came as a welcome surprise.
“We are elated by the decision of Prime Minister Hun Sen. It is incredibly encouraging to see that the prime minister has looked so deeply into this proposed titanium mine and taken the effort to weigh the consequences that this project would have on the rainforest and the local people,” said Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett. “United Khmer Group had promised staggering revenues for the government, and we applaud the courageous decision of the prime minister to see the greater value of the forest as it currently stands.”
United Khmer Group had projected revenues of more than $1.3 billion for the mine despite having never done a scientific analysis of the proposed mining area. If it had been allowed to go ahead with the strip mine it was questionable as to whether it would be profitable. But it is certain that it would have had disastrous effects on the community of Chi Phat and the ecotourism project Wildlife Alliance and the local people have developed.
Chi Phat’s natural beauty has been the subject of numerous international articles in recent months, including a large write-up in the New York Times. But all this attention would have been for naught if the Chi Phat’s trails and scenic waterfalls had been replaced by mining pits and industrial runoff.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision today is a major victory for conservation in one of the largest contiguous rainforests in Southeast Asia, but threats persist. Not too far away from the proposed mine, an Australian firm is looking to set up a banana plantation that would sever the elephant corridor. But after seeing this responsible move by the Cambodian government today, we are moving forward more confident that the cause of conservation and sustainable development can come out on top in that struggle as well.