(Pictured above: Segamat police chief Superintendent Abdul Majid Md Ali (centre) showing some of the equipment seized from the illegal prospectors.)
JOHOR: Is Jementah, a subdistrict in northern Johor, a gold mine? Old folk say there was a gold rush in the land-locked sub-district in the 1980s, but the illegal activity ended shortly after because prospectors never found much gold.
Also, some of the land was later put under private ownership.
One resident, identified only as Ibrahim, who was close to the prospectors, said he accompanied his friend to mine gold ore out of curiosity but the find was so little that the miners eventually gave up.
"The rising price of gold now could trigger an interest in gold digging here." Gold prices exceeded RM150 (S$122) per gm last month, as quoted by Maybank. However, it dropped to about RM147 per gm early this week.
Soldiers from the Syed Sirajuddin Camp in Gemas near here detained nine gold prospectors on Friday and Saturday.
The soldiers handed the men, who had encroached on the camp's shooting range to mine gold ore, to police.
It is learnt the prospectors operated independently but sold their ores to a buyer in Bandar Muadzam Shah, Pahang.
The mining site, located 2km from Kampung Bukit Keledang in Jementah near here, is accessible only by foot or dirt bike as it is a jungle area.
The nine men were detected be - cause of the noise from their dirt bikes, which caused villagers to alert the district land office.
A district land office spokesman said it received a report on illegal gold mining on June 15.
"We trekked to the site two days later to investigate and found there was indeed mining going on there." It took an hour to trek to the site, with the last hill being the most dangerous because of deep r av i n e s.
There were two streams along the way, and the illegal prospectors had built wooden bridges, measuring two metres wide, for dirt bikes and people to get across.
The mining site was about the size of two basketball courts.
The spokesman said: "Initially, we thought the site is a reserve area belonging to the land and mines office. However, when we used the general packet radio service to access the area, we found that it belongs to the army camp.
"We collected samples that resembled gold dust. We will send it to the Johor Mineral and Geoscience (JMG) Department for analysis." Village head Supardi Jamadi, 51, said villagers had complained to him about the dirt bikes passing by the village and heading to the mining site three months ago.
Although he was born in the village, he said he had no knowledge of any gold mining activity in the surrounding areas. The village had about 85 houses and 360 residents.
JMG director Shahar Effendi Abdullah Azizi said no mining permit or prospecting licence had been issued in Jementah.
"The only gold mining area we know of is in Mersing. We shall wait for the samples from the district land office before commenting." Johor Land and Mines Department director Mohd Yazrin Yassin said his office might invoke the National Land Code to charge the nine for trespassing on gazetted land.