The government has seized back more than 12,000 hectares of land previously awarded to seven companies as economic land concessions (ELCs), according to a letter from the Council of Ministers.
The letter, which was obtained by the Post yesterday, was sent late last month to the governors of Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu and Koh Kong provinces, and Environment Minister Say Sam Al.
It explains that licences awarded from 2006 to 2011 for eight ELCs in the provinces would be revoked and the land put under the ownership of the Environment Ministry.
Sub-decrees issued earlier this month to three of the companies, Vimean Seila Co, Ltd; Soun Vattanak Co, Ltd; and Chan Rot Group, confirmed the decision.
While the letter did not specify reasons for the seizure, Chhit Sokhum, governor of Preah Sihanouk province, where five of the ELCs were located, said the companies had failed to develop the land.
“The commission went down and saw the companies’ names and saw that they had not developed anything or they had developed little, so we seized the land for preservation,” he said.
“It’s a waste of government time and tax when the companies do not develop” the land, he added.
According to Sokhum, the land will be preserved, and not awarded to other companies.
Buon Narith, Preah Sihanouk provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, welcomed the seizures and urged the government to take a stronger approach to all ELCs.
“We see some companies logging and clearing forest and then they do not develop anything,” he said.
Vann Sophath, land reform coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, agreed.
“Most of the companies [use] their concessions as a front for logging because the land of ELCs [is] full of the forest and natural resources. The first target of those companies is logging and exploiting natural resources for their interest and income,” he said.
In a directive last month, the government vowed to strengthen how ELCs are awarded and regulated.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY