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PM defends economic land concession signings

PM defends economic land concession signings

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Prime Minister Hun Sen has fiercely defended his right to grant economic land concessions after issuing a moratorium on the leases in May, pointing to a loophole in the ban which exempts ELCs that already had in principle approval.

Hun Sen attacked the Post and the Cambodia Daily in a speech yesterday for failing to understand the legalities of his May 7 moratorium when reporting that ELCs had been granted despite the order – an apparent contradiction.

“I respect the media, but those media [outlets] lack professional journalism, they lack all aspects of information or have an intention to destroy,” he said, adding the newspapers should issue corrections for their articles or they would have a problem with him.

Specifically, the premier highlighted Point 4 of the order, which states that for ELCs which had already “received the official permission from the government before the issued date, it is necessary to continue to enforce in according with legal principles and procedures in effect”.

The prime minister has signed off on at least six ELCs covering almost 50,000 hectares and privatised more than 35,000 hectares of protected areas in six separate tracts – which are destined to become ELCs – since he announced the moratorium.

He has also granted a 7,668 hectare concession for tourism, which is not technically an ELC.

The ELCs, he said, had all gained approval in principle and as such did not contravene the moratorium.

“If the economic land concessions are not yet privatised as the private state land, the prime minister has to sign on the sub-decree and many more procedures,” Hun Sen said.

Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, yesterday attacked the loophole in the moratorium, which she said was “so big it swallows the ban itself” and left everyone in the dark as to just how many more ELCs were coming.

“We’ve documented at least 13 concessions totalling over 80,000 hectares since the ban was signed on May 7. That’s 800 square kilometres – an area larger than the size of Singapore,” Pilorge said in a written statement. “We call on the government to publicly declare how many more concessions are in the pipeline.”

Minister of Agriculture, Chan Sarun, said he did not know how many more ELCs could be eligible for approval under the ban, adding there was confusion in the media about “process” and “technical workings”.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]

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