Forest of Gold
“In the northeastern forests of Cambodia, indigenous communities make little contact with outsiders. Roads leading into these communities are usually muddy and treacherous, only traversable by skilled motorcyclists, each willing to slosh through the muck or whip through densely thicketed ravines and gullies.
Travel from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, to places like these usually takes a two full day’s ride, from dawn til dusk. And that’s if the river near the end of trip is low enough to pass.
With the recent discovery of gold, bauxite, and other minerals in these forests, however, once remote areas like these are now seeing a steady trickle of new visitors. Roads wide enough for tractors and trailers are popping up here and there, neatly dug out and graded. When the weather is dry, you can see the heavy equipment from mining companies lumbering past, inscribed with the characters of the company’s Chinese or Korean owners.
It is a moment of great change, opportunity, and risk here. There has been a boom of foreign investment in the extraction of the minerals in the forests — and oil and gas off and onshore. Major investors include Chevron, BHP, and Total. Minor investors include Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, South Korean, and Vietnamese companies, which can be hard to identify by name, let alone to glean further information about.
“We ordinary people do not even know the names of the companies. They won’t tell us,” said Meng Mom, who can see and hear the exploration pit of a Chinese gold mine from the front steps of her home in Prey Meas village, otherwise known as the “Forest of Gold” in Mondulkiri province.
The Cambodian people, while enthusiastic about the news of the resource discoveries, are largely under-educated about the associated threats. While they see the possibility of new jobs, they know very little if anything at all about the looming potential of a “resource curse” in Cambodia — when countries rich with national resources become poorer because of their extraction.”