THE government has awarded nearly 1,000 hectares of land in coastal Ream National Park to a company run by a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, in what observers say is another example of authorities doling out land in what is supposed to be a protected area.
According to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 18, the government granted 987 hectares from the protected park in Preah Sihanouk province to Vimean Seila Ltd, a company run by Long Sakhan, a lawmaker from Prey Veng province.
Long Sakhan said the company has received a 99-year lease for the land in the protected park and has already submitted development plans for the site to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the government’s oversight body for large developments.
“We are in the process of seeking foreign partners on the project,” Long Sakhan said Wednesday. “We will start the project when the master plan is approved by the government.”
MOST OF IT IS FOR SALE, AND PEOPLE ARE PURCHASING THOUSANDS OF HECTARES.
Vimean Seila’s website states that the company has been awarded 2,000 hectares on Koh Thmey Island in Ream National Park. Long Sakhan said the land awarded in March was part of that larger concession, and added that plans are in place to invest roughly US$1 billion in a new development.
The cost of that project would be almost double that of a similar project envisioned for nearby Koh Ses Island, where Vimean Seila is planning to invest $536 million on a luxury resort, Long Sakhan said.
Ream National Park included 21,000 hectares of coastal park area in Preah Sihanouk province when it was created in 1993. But in recent years, various land concessions have cut away swathes of land to private developers in what is officially designated as a protected area.
In February, the government awarded 1,650 hectares of park land to a company identified as Hong Kong Research Investment and Development Consulting Group Co Ltd.
Tensions flared earlier this year over a separate 3,300-hectare concession awarded to Yi Chea Company. The concession overlapped with the homes of 116 families. A military brigade was brought in to help clear the land, according to the rights group Licadho, and in February 2008, 58 families from the same area also faced threats in a separate land dispute with a company identified as Evergreen Success Asia Resort Company, the group reported.
Am Sam Ath, a senior monitor for Licadho, said the dispute between villagers and Yi Chea Company still has not been resolved, even as additional concessions are handed out.
“We see that the government is continuously granting land from the national parks and forests, which are protected areas, to private companies,” he said.
It is unclear whether the most recent land concessions in Ream National Park affect families who are already living there, said Mathieu Pellerin, a Licadho consultant. But with authorities continuing to distribute land concessions in national parks, it appears they are also ignoring the fact that they are officially protected, he said.
“I find it hard to understand why the government is calling this place a protected national park. It seems most of it is for sale, and people are purchasing thousands of hectares of this park for private projects,” Pellerin said.
Minister of Environment Mok Mareth, whose ministry oversees the Kingdom’s national parks, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.