The government revoked 23 economic land concessions covering an area almost the size of Hong Kong last year after the concession-holders failed to develop the land, Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said yesterday.
The ministry reviewed 113 economic land concessions (ELCs) in 2014, he said during a press conference, and found grounds for cancelling 23 concessions adding up to more than 90,000 hectares of land.
Of the ELCs cancelled last year, two belonged to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser and notorious logging tycoon Try Pheap, with one in Ratanakkiri province’s Virachey National Park and another in Thmor Da district in Pursat province. Four other firms had their concessions put under government supervision for between six months and one year.
“For me, cleaning up the ELCs provides a welcoming environment for investors, so they understand that the land we have [for lease] does not affect the people,” Sam Al said. “We have also examined the legal aspects in terms of both the ministry’s and investors’ obligations. We have looked at them comprehensively before seizure.”
The seized land was taken from companies that said they were investing in agriculture, eco-tourism, special economic zones and conservation in 12 provinces, largely in Cambodia’s south, north and east.
“We took the land back so it is under the control of the Ministry of Environment; this was the key goal that the ministry achieved in 2014,” he added.
Despite Sam Al heralding the scheme as a breakthrough in pro-poor land policy in Cambodia, land dispute victims and campaigners said the measures were too little, too late.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at rights group Licadho, said: “Most of the land was seized from companies that made cake without flour, meaning they just logged the land. They should not just take the land back, they should also consider punishments,” he said.
In 2012, Hun Sen issue a moratorium on the granting of new ELCs and called for a review of all existing concessionaires.