Australian miner OZ Minerals Ltd has discovered 8.1 million tonnes of ore in rural Cambodia it believes can produce 605,000 ounces of gold, OZ and energy officials said on Monday.
The discovery could be the country's biggest since exploration began 17 years ago, said Sok Leng, director-general of mineral resources at Cambodia's Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.
Cambodia's government says the country is yet to make any revenues from its mining industry, despite the presence of at least 60 foreign and domestic companies seeking to tap mineral resources.
The gold discovery was made by OZ Minerals in the remote and sparsely-populated province of Mondulkiri in eastern Cambodia, bordering Vietnam, 521 km from the capital Phnom Penh.
"We have high mineral potential in this area, belonging to OZ Company and they found 8.1 million tonnes ," Sok Leng told a news conference.
He said copper, gold, iron ore, zinc, lead, tin, bauxite, sapphires, rubies, kaolin and limestone were among the untapped resources in Cambodia, but said the impoverished country's poor infrastructure made exploration difficult.
"It's not at all easy...as there is poor infrastructure and exploration has to be conducted in the remote jungles. Companies need more time and capital."
"Companies also face high risks if the discoveries prove to be economically non-viable," he added.
Companies from Australia, China, Vietnam and South Korea are among those searching for mineral resources in Cambodia.
Douglas Broderick, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme said developing Cambodia's nascent mining sector would take time.
"It's a five- to 10-year period that we're talking about, not something that will happen overnight," he said, adding that rural communities where the exploration takes places should be entitled to benefits.
Foreign investment in Cambodia has risen in recent years but forced evictions and insufficient compensation paid to local people living in areas made available to industry has led to angry and occasionally violent demonstrations.
Cambodia's economy, which is fuelled by agriculture, tourism and garment manufacturing, is likely to grow 5 percent this year, driven mostly by increased agricultural output, Prime Minister Hun Sen said last month.
The International Monetary Fund is forecasting GDP growth of 4.8 percent this year. The World Bank's estimate is 4.4 percent and the Asian Development Bank, 4.5 percent.
"The Council for the Development of Cambodia said the value of approved mining projects in the country peaked at $181 million in 2005.
In 2008 and 2009, several exploration plans and mining projects were suspended following the decline in the global recession, the council said in a report.