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Agriculture developers petition Hun Sen

A CONSORTIUM of 34 agricultural development companies led by tycoon Mong Reththy has filed a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting the cancellation of a government royalty.

A prakas, or edict, issued by the ministers of finance and agriculture last December ordered companies holding economic land concessions to reimburse the state for the value of any trees growing within concessions. Article 2 of the prakas said the number of trees must be tallied before concession land could be cleared.

The petition asks the premier to “adjust or cancel the article 2”, according to Mong Reththy. It was penned following a meeting by the firms at the end of August, after which it was claimed the royalty could “strangle” investment and hinder the development of concession areas.

Mong Reththy, president of Mong Reththy Group and co-chairman of the government-private sector working group on agriculture and agro-industry, said yesterday he had not yet received a response to the petition he filed “late last week”.

A spokesman for Sopheak-Nika Investment Group, which had been clearing forest to plant rubber trees in Stung Treng province since 2007, said yesterday that the company’s operations would suffer if the prakas was fully enforced.

“We plan to entirely finish our planting of rubber on the whole area [10,000 hectares] by 2017, but it will take longer to achieve this if the government remains firm on the prakas because we don’t have the money to pay for the currently standing trees,” said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The company has so far cleared and planted rubber on 2,500 hectares of the 10,000 hectares granted.

He said if the government did not agree to cancel the article, it could also consider an adjustment by allowing companies to cut the trees, sell them, and then hand over the money to pay to the government. Or, he added, the government could remove the trees and keep or sell the timber itself.

“We only need the land, not the wood,” he said.

Ho Sothy, chief of the Premier’s Cabinet, declined to comment yesterday. Chheng Kim Sun, director of the Forestry Administration, said previously that there were more than 100 land concessionaires operating in Cambodia controlling total area of more than 1.3 million hectares.

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