The government has allocated more than 1 million hectares of land to private companies in the form of economic concessions, many of which were illegal, resulting in forced evictions, lost livelihoods and lost natural resources, a rights activist has said.
“Natural resources, such as forests, mines and rivers play an important role in providing nourishment to millions of Cambodians. If they are mismanaged, it can negatively affect these people’s environment, livelihoods and rights,” said Chhith Sam Ath, director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia.
He said economic land concessions also frequently resulted in loss of farmland and loss of food security for the rural poor and ethnic minorities.
Thun Saray, president of rights group Adhoc, said that according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 146 private companies had been granted economic concessions.
During the past five years, Adhoc documented more than 100,000 people affected by development projects, he said.
In the first nine months of 2010, Adhoc received 270 complaints related to land rows, which surpasses the 2009 year-end total of 265 complaints.
Pung Chiv Kek, president of the rights group Licadho, said that during the past five years Licadho had documented more than 250,000 Cambodians in 14 provinces who had been “affected by rural and urban land-grabbing and ongoing disputes”.
She said “this figure is a very conservative under-representation and includes only cases we investigated”.
Roath Sarin, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the government understood the challenges of land concessions and resource management.
“Keeping land untouched without any development, illegally grabbing state land and the fact that some villagers are facing a lack of land exists in some towns and provinces,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY WILL BAXTER