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Land concessions under fire

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Rural communities say the government's economic land concession program is uprooting hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of private local and foreign business interests

HENG CHIVOAN

Participants at a conference on community peace building at the World Vision offices in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

MORE than 200 fishing and forestry communities across Cambodia have appealed to the government to end its policy of granting economic land concessions to local and foreign investors.

"The government should be urging investment in development projects for the benefit of all Cambodian people instead of making concessions of forest and coastal land to private investors," said Sim Sean, president of the Land and Forestry Community in Kampong Thom province.

He addressed his comments to a two-day conference on community peace-building at the offices of World Vision in Phnom Penh that ended on Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the East West Management Institute and USAID.

"We need to reduce poverty in Cambodia, but our farmland is being taken away for the sake of private business interests," he said.

"Authorities always accuse us of being opposition party activists when we complain about the loss of our land, and sometimes they throw us in jail," he said.

Chea Sophorn, president of the Land and Forestry Community in Kampong Chhang province said many investors are not interested in development but are simply destroying the country's natural resources.

"The government tells us that investment in forestry land concessions will reduce poverty, but investors sell their licenses to other investors for a profit after they clear-cut all the trees," he said.

Yeng Virak, president of the Community Legal Education Center, said the amount of land made available by the government for land concessions has dramatically increased in recent years.

"I'm concerned that even more people will eventually lose their lands as the government gives more concessions to investors," he said.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government had carefully studied the impact of all land concessions on local communities.

"We have millions of hectares of additional land reserved for these concessions, and we need more foreign investors to increase our GDP and reduce poverty," he said.

The government has signed land-concession contracts with 90 private companies from 1992 through August 2007 under its economic land concession program, according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The concessions comprise 1.178 million hectares of land in 16 provinces and municipalities.

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