A SWEETHEART OF A DEAL
Two Kampong Speu concessions joined at the hip
The 8,343-hectare land concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, which is owned by Ly Yong Phat, sits side-by-side with the 10,000-hectare Kampong Speu Sugar Company concession, which is registered in the name of his wife, Kim Heang.
ON TURNER AND WILL BAXTER
LAND concessions in violation of Article 59 of the Land Law – which limits the size of concessions to 10,000 hectares – should be cancelled, a coalition of rights groups said Wednesday, pointing in particular to several that have been granted to Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.
The senator’s concessions have been a frequent target of criticism from rights groups. Most recently, a concession awarded to his Phnom Penh Sugar Company in Kampong Speu province has prompted heated protests for months from villagers who say it impinges on their land.
Though none of the concessions cited by the coalition, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), are greater than 10,000 hectares, the fact that they all seem to have been awarded to the same person effectively contravenes the Article 59 restriction, according to a statement released Wednesday.
At a press conference held in the capital, Ny Chakrya, head of the land rights programme for the rights group Adhoc, said, “Recently we found that the Cambodian government had granted economic land concessions to three companies, but that the owner was one person.” He later said he was referring to Ly Yong Phat.
These concessions, he said, include the 8,343-hectare plot given to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, a 9,700-hectare plot in Koh Kong province given to the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, and a 9,863-hectare plot in Oddar Meanchey province given to the Angkor Sugar Company.
Sok Sam Oeun, acting chairman of CHRAC and executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, said that any one person can receive only 10,000 hectares of land through concessions.
“Even though they can get economic land concessions in different provinces, the total should not be over 10,000 hectares,” he said.
However, Mao Sopheareth, director of the Department of Agro Industry at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Wednesday that the restriction actually applied to companies, not people.
“Some companies have gotten economic land concessions of over 10,000 hectares in the past, but the new sub-decree on economic land concessions states they cannot get over 10,000 hectares,” Mao Sopheareth said. “But one person can get double the amount of land through concessions if they change their company name.”
Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. He has previously defended the concessions, and argued that villagers in Kampong Speu province will not be affected by the plot that has been given to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company.
In addition to the concessions cited by Ny Chakrya, a 10,000-hectare concession lying adjacent to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company concession has been granted to the Kampong Speu Sugar Company, which is registered in the name of Kim Heang, Ly Yong Phat’s wife, according to maps seen Wednesday.
Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, said at the press conference: “We recommend that the government review whether these concessions follow legal guidelines. If the concessions do not follow the guidelines, the government should consider cancelling the concessions, and also compensate the families affected.”
The rights group Licadho has alleged on its website that Ly Yong Phat is also the beneficiary of the 12,167-hectare concession awarded to the Tonle Sugar Cane Company, as well as the 10,925-hectare concession awarded to the Cane and Sugar Valley Company, both of which are in Oddar Meanchey province. The Cane and Sugar Valley Company concession adjoins the Angkor Sugar Company concession.
Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant for Licadho, said Wednesday that investigations had led the group to “believe that all of these concessions are owned by the same person”.
An Haya, a village representative from Chi Khor Leu commune in Koh Kong, said at Wednesday’s press conference that the 9,700-hectare plot in Koh Kong province given to Ly Yong Phat’s Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company had overlapped with land belonging to 400 families, and that none of the families had received any form of compensation. “Now the company is clearing the forest and filling up the lake, which means the villagers cannot catch any fish to support their daily living like before,” he said.
Khun Chuch, a village representative from Omlaing commune in Kampong Speu province, said families there were concerned about the potential loss of their farmland.
In addition to calling for the cancellation of all concessions larger than 10,000 hectares, the statement from CHRAC also calls on the government to refrain from granting new concessions until a proper monitoring system is in place; to cancel all existing concessions that have led to land disputes, and to make all information related to concessions publicly available.