A recent raid of an illegal gold mine in Kon Tum Province ended up with a truck belonging to authorities being damaged by violent miners.
“After we seized their machines and loaded them on our truck, a group of miners insulted us before damaging the truck and taking back the machines,” A Phuong, deputy chairman of the Dak Glei District People’s Committee, said.
Illegal gold mining has been going on unabated in Dak Long, a commune in the district located near the border with Laos, for at least seven years now.
Some government officials are allegedly involved in the activity that pollutes the environment and destroys local farmers’ rice and coffee fields.
Phuong said the damage to the truck was not a serious incident.
“In late 2011, gold miners with knives chased after us and broke the windshield of our car when we visited the area.
“Soon afterwards a joint team attempted to inspect illegal gold mines along the Dak Tu Stream when the miners tied up three officials and took them to a football field.”
The officials were later rescued after more police officers were dispatched to the spot.
Destroyed rice, coffee fields
According to local residents, gold mining in Dak Long Commune began in 2008 by a migrant worker from Ninh Binh who was married to a local woman, Y Bong.
The family has since hired dozens of workers to mine for gold along streams and on farmlands it bought from local farmers.
Many locals have followed them in buying farmlands for gold mining, and there are now at least 10 illegal gold mines in the commune.
A Dan, a local man, said people used to grow rice but the gold fever has destroyed a large area of farmland in the commune.
“I advised them to stop gold mining but no one listened.”
A Phuc, who owns a piece of land where he hires many workers to mine for gold, said: “I am exploring for gold on my land. I bought it from a local resident for VND60 million (US$2,750) per 1,000 square meters.”
An area that used to be farmland has been destroyed by illegal gold mining in Kon Tum Province.
A Hieng, a commune official, said people have also sold coffee farms to gold miners.
Illegal miners have even encroached on lands licensed out to Dong A Steel Company to mine for gold.
“To avoid trouble, we had to pay the miners so that they would leave,” the company’s Nguyen Van Cuong said.
Officials’ ‘dirty hands’
A Dak Long Commune official, who asked to remain unnamed, said several government officials are themselves involved in the illegal gold mining or are protecting their relatives.
“A senior commune official is not involved directly in mining but he lets his son and son-in-law operate an illegal gold mine near his house.
“Even some neighborhood officials are involved in gold mining or cooperate with gold miners.”
Hieng said commune authorities seized equipment from illegal miners but returned them after getting a commitment to stop mining.
Phuong, the Dak Glei District official, said he has heard about some government officials offering protection to illegal miners.
“We have asked higher authorities to investigate the case of miners opposing officials on duty. We will also discuss measures to stop the illegal gold mining.”