KUANTAN: ILLEGAL gold miners have been extracting gold nuggets worth nearly half a million ringgit from several spots in the Tersang forest reserve in Raub, it was discovered recently.
Equipped with mining machinery, with workers given accommodation at a rumah kongsi, the miners’ illegal activities were discovered by the Pahang Forestry Department early last month following a series of arrests of a group of illegal prospectors.
They left behind a trail of damning environmental issues, affecting the rich diversity of the forest reserve.
Illegal miners could have carted away seven pots of gold worth nearly half a million ringgit by the time they were caught by the department’s enforcement unit.
Pahang Forestry Department director Datuk Dr Mohd Hizamri Mohd Yasin said four illegal gold mining sites were discovered last year and two this year.
He said on Oct 1, his team raided a mining site in Tersang that was more than 2ha and seized mining equipment such as water pumps, generators, steel cutters, welding machines, a motorcycle and two excavators.
“They were caught in the middle of assembling the machines. The mining hadn’t started yet, but they had cut down trees at the site,” he told the New Straits Times.
He said the illegal miners were slapped with a RM95,000 compound and the court ordered the seizure of their equipment.
On Oct 14, Hizamri said the department learnt that a company had been extracting gold outside the approved perimeter of its mining permit, which had expired.
He said its activities encroached on the forest reserve area.
“In April last year, illegal mining was discovered at four sites in the Ibam Forest Reserve in Rompin. We seized one excavator, five lorries and mining equipment and arrested three suspects.”
He said Op Lombong 2.0 was launched on April 17 last year to nab illegal miners in a joint operation with the state Land and Mines Office at the Ibam Forest Reserve here.
“We arrested 10 suspects and seized mining equipments, four generators and four sets of four-wheel-drive vehicles.”
Hizamri said Op Lombong 3.0 last year was the biggest operation yet and involved nine agencies: Forestry Department, state Land and Mines Office, Department of Environment, Mineral and Geoscience Department, Immigration Department, Pahang State Secretary’s Office and the police.
In the four-day operation, from Oct 29 to Nov 2 last year, at the Tersang Lipis, Aur Gading and Ulu Jelai forest reserves, 15 people, including five Chinese nationals, were arrested and mining equipment and 34 generators were seized.
Hizamri said more mining equipment were seized during Op PTG on Nov 16 last year at the Chini Forest Reserve in Kuantan.
“Illegal miners in all three cases from last year were fined a total of RM320,000.”
Asked why the focus of the operations had been on forest reserves, Hizamri said these areas were part of the Kalyan gold belt of Peninsular Malaysia.
He said the areas became accessible following the opening up of oil palm plantations by the Federal Land Development Authority and Felcra.
“We have been cooperating with plantations workers who have been supplying us with information on illegal logging and mining in the area. We also had help from the Raub District and Land Office and Village Community Management Council.”
He said the department’s enforcement unit deployed drones regularly to monitor the areas.
He said encroachment on forest reserves and extraction of forest produce without a licence were a violation of the National Forestry Act 1984 and perpetrators faced a fine or a jail term, or both, upon conviction.