The government has granted private companies the right to develop about 65,000 hectares of land in wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and on public reserves since January 1, data from a human rights group reveals.
Ouch Leng, land reform project coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that so far this year, the government had granted economic land concessions to 14 private companies, clearing the way for 65,066 hecatares to be developed for agro-industry.
“The land the government has granted to private companies is inside national park and wildlife sanctuaries,” he said, adding that affected provinces were Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Siem Reap, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Kampong Thom.
“The economic land concession process should be included in the National Assembly’s agenda so it can be discussed and reformed,” he said.
According to an Adhoc report from November 2011, the Cambodian government granted more than 2 million hectares in economic land concessions to 222 private companies between 2008 and 2011, while forest and mining concessions totalled more than 7 million hectares.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said companies were not respecting the law.
“The government should keep land to grant to villagers as a social land concession, because the population is rising every year,” he said.
Thuk Kroeun Vutha, secretary of state of ministry of environment, said the reason the government had granted so many concessions was to provide jobs to villagers.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asian division, said economic land concessions were affecting wildlife and threatening livelihoods.
“The Cambodian government’s policy on economic concessions has come to resemble little more than a looting party, as corrupt investors and officials grab whatever they can as fast as they can. When wildlife areas are targeted, local people around those areas suffer from a loss of rights and livelihoods.”