Six economic land concessionaires in Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces have had their contracts to supply the government with wood to build housing for soldiers and their families cancelled.
In 2011, after the conflict with Thailand over the Preah Vihear temple, the government encouraged the families of soldiers to settle in the two provinces, and it has since allocated land to them under its social land concession scheme.
The six politically connected plantation firms – Best Royal (K) Co, Ltd; Huot Meng Vita Co, Ltd; Nature Plantation (KH) Co, Ltd; Sok Samnang Development; Tay Ninh Siem Reap Aphivath Caoutchouch Co, Ltd; and Tumring Rubber Co – were issued 65,065 hectares of concessions in 2011 and 2012 in the Kulen Prom-Tep Wildlife Sanctuary and contracted to provide timber to the authorities.
But in a letter signed by Minister of Environment Say Sam Al on August 28, the order was given to end the arrangement.
“Now the [housing] projects have … been completed, so your supplies will be stopped from now on,” he said in the letter.
The order followed a letter on August 6 from Chea Sophara, the minister of rural development, requesting Sam Al end the contract.
Monitoring groups say they have found evidence that the companies logged illegally. But Sophara said none of the wood used to build the 200 houses for the families of soldiers and police had been sourced illegally.
“The timber we bought is grade two, which was near the villages and not from anywhere far away,” he said.
Ouch Leng, director of the Human Rights Task Force, said the cancellation of the contracts showed the government did not know how to manage the forests. “The ministries issued letters to show that the two ministries did not know how to manage their own natural resources, allowing the private companies to log their own forest and then becoming buyers from them instead.”
In October last year, rights group Adhoc reported that at least 1,000 families in 14 provinces had suffered from land grabs by military officers to construct accommodation.