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The great land giveaway

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More than 2 million of the Kingdom’s nearly 18 million hectares of land – roughly 12 per cent – was given out to 225 private companies in economic concessions last year, according to an annual report released by rights group Adhoc yesterday.

The concessions put 606 communities at risk of eviction, the report states.

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Adhoc president Thun Saray said yesterday at the report’s release that the 2,276,349 hectares of land concessions were distributed to companies by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to be used for agro-industry development.

“This shows that Cambodia barely has any more land to grant as an economic land concession. In one year, the government granted over 1 million hectares to private companies like this,” he said.

“How will we have any to leave for the younger generation?”

Thun Saray also noted that the total acreage of land concessions doled out in the past year was likely much larger than the 2.2 million figure, since that number did not reflect land concessions made by other ministries.

Such land concessions were a major source of anger for villagers, he said, since “the government never evaluates the social and environmental impact and fails to comply with the land law”.

Village protests to land grabs resulted in the arrests of 95 residents, the detainment of 48 people and the death of one man, Thun Sary said.

Forced evictions

More than 400 villagers received criminal charges in such protests, nearly a 50 per cent increase from the previous year, he added, criticising the courts as a “tool” for “powerful” companies and people “to take over villagers’ land”.

Meanwhile, forced evictions affected 127 of the Kingdom’s 733 communities in 2011, the Adhoc president said, pointing out the close ties that many firms receiving concessions had with the government. In Phnom Penh alone, more than 30,000 families were evicted.

“All the places that evict people were taken over by private companies that have close relationships with powerful people, and some companies are even owned by senior government officers,” Thun Saray said.

Ny Chakrya, head of land rights and natural resources for Adhoc, said the unemployment rate doubled for villagers that had been evicted.

This forced many to look abroad for work, Thun Saray said.

“The government always tells people not to cross the border illegally to work abroad, but it doesn’t understand that when villagers lose their land and job, they have to work abroad to support themselves,” he said.

"Serious consequences"

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Hong Narith said yesterday that he did not know how Adhoc arrived at its numbers and instructed interested parties to review the MAFF website, which he said contained updated information.

However, figures on that website were only available through to April 2010 and said that up until that point, the Ministry had made land concessions to 85 companies totalling 956,690 hectares.

Thuk Kroeun Vuth, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said yesterday that he was unaware of Adhoc’s report, but that in general, land concessions were not a cause for concern.

“We still have a lot of land. Don’t worry, the government has a clear plan of what to do and which places to develop and which places to conserve,” he said.

However, opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay told the Post that land concessions had “serious consequences,” including the “destruction” of land and the “suffer[ing]” of villagers.

“Land concessions are illegal acts of the government and part of the major corruption within the system,” he said. “We have to put a stop on this activity so future concessions must not be conducted.”

Ny Chakrya advocated a system in which the government sells land to villagers instead of private firms.

“Instead of renting the land to the company at only $19 per hectare, if the government rents to villagers at $150 per hectare, the government still makes a profit and the villagers keep their land,” he said.

It Nody, undersecretary of state at MAFF, declined to comment yesterday, saying he was busy in a meeting, while Beng Hong Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at may.titthara@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Kristin Lynch

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