4 Cambodians die in accident at unlicensed gold mine

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Four Cambodian prospectors who were digging for gold in the central province of Kampong Thom were killed when earth collapsed into the pit where they were mining, a government official and a fellow villager said Friday.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith on his Facebook page quoted reports from a local official saying the four men who died had been hired by a couple who own the mine in the rural jungle village of Snong An.

The accident occurred Thursday morning as the men were digging, said Ven Srey Tith, a villager living near the site.

Speaking by phone from her home, she said the pit was only a little more than two meters (six feet) deep, but mounds of excavated earth collapsed into it without warning and no one was nearby to see the men's plight.

Their bodies were retrieved the same day and sent to their families for religious rites.

Mining without a license is illegal, and Ven Srey Tith said the authorities had told villagers a long time ago that they are not allowed to mine gold there.

Some villagers pleaded to be allowed to dig for gold because they are poor and need the income, she said. Most villagers farm for a living, she said.

Despite the official ban, mining has been occurring at the village since 2012 and there had not been any major accidents until now, she said. Other miners stopped digging on Friday, at least temporarily, after hearing of the tragedy, she said.

Illegal gold mining on a small scale is often tolerated, while licensed industrial mining for gold in carried out by a handful of companies, including from Australia, China, Vietnam and India.