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'Rare Earth' Exploitation Could Begin by 2015: Officials

Traditional miners pan for gold at a mine in Hampalit, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Traditional miners pan for gold at a mine in Hampalit, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Cambodia expects the exploitation of “rare earth” materials in 2015, but officials say there is no clear data for its potential.

China produces the vast majority of the minerals, which are critical in the construction of today's hi-tech goods, but experts say some of those materials may be found in Cambodia.

Companies have already begun exploring parts of Cambodia for the rare materials, but none have confirmed an intent to exploit them in earnest, Cambodian officials say.

“We receive from time to time the data, but due to the lack of a real outcome, we don't have confirmation about exploitation from any one company,” said Suy Sem, Minister of Industry.

However, the government is compiling all data related to mineral resources in a bid to attract investment, he said.

At a mining conference held in Cambodia earlier this year, Richard Schodde, a consultant for CRU Strategies, said there is “strong speculative interest” here in “strategic minerals” like lithium and rare earth minerals like scandium, yttrium and other so-called Lanthanides.

Around 60 companies, especially from Australia, China, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, have licenses for mineral exploration here. Cambodia has an estimated 25 different mineral types, from bauxite to zinc, gold, iron, and gems.

Mam Sambath, executive director of Development Partnership in Action, said many of those companies are not ready for exploitation. “It means they haven't found enough minerals to exploit,” he said.

But experts say the industry is in its infancy, and a 2001 law on mineral management will eventual help bring more investment.