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Monday, April 11, 2011

Cambodian prime minister cancels titanium mine project citing impact on biodiversity and local people

April 11, 2011
Jeremy Hance

In a surprise move, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Sandech Hun Sen, has cancelled a titanium strip mine project in one of Southeast Asia’s last great intact forest ecosystems, the Cardamom Mountains. According to a press release sent out by the Cambodian government the mine was canceled due to "concerns of the impact on the environment, biodiversity and local livelihoods" of villagers. The mine, which was planned to sit directly in the migration route for the largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, had been largely opposed by locals in the region who spent years developing eco-tourism in the region.

"We were under the impression the battle was lost. We are very pleased that the prime minister has weighed the environmental impact," Wildlife Alliance Communications Officer John Maloy told AFP.

Wildlife Alliance, a conservation NGO, has worked extensively in Cambodia for nearly a decade, including with the village of Chi Phat near the area slated to be strip-mined. Many local had residents given up logging and poaching to focus on tourism efforts; for its part, Wildlife Alliance invested over half a million US dollars to build infrastructure.

"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 in a statement. "[Mining company] 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 publically projected that the mine would bring in $1.3 billion dollars a year, but Wildlife Alliance and the Cambodian newspaper Phnom Penh Post questioned the company's projections. According to the Phnom Penh Post, the company was citing prices for titanium that were three times current market price and was projecting a big haul of titanium without ever conducting a comprehensive study of the ore deposit.

Incredibly rich in wildlife, the Cardamom Mountains is home to Indochinese tigers, Malayan sun bears, and pileated gibbons, in addition to 250 species of birds. According to Wildlife Alliance 70 threatened species live in the area, including the Siamese crocodile, which is listed as Critically Endangered.

  • Endangered species found in the Cardamom Mountains according to the IUCN Red List:
  • Asian elephant (Elephas maximums): Endangered
  • Banteng (Bos javanicus): Endangered
  • Burmese python (Python molurus): Near Threatened
  • Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa): Vulnerable
  • Dhole (Cuon alpinus): Endangered
  • Frog-faced softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii): Endangered
  • Gaur (Bos gaurus): Vulnerable
  • Green peafowl (Pavo muticus): Endangered
  • Indochinese tiger ( Panthera tigris corbetti): Endangered
  • Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus): Vulnerable
  • Pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus): Endangered
  • Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis): Critically Endangered
  • Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata): Vulnerable
  • Southwest Chinese serow (Capricornis sumatraensis): Near Threatened

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