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Gov’t denies CCIM land concessions report

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Participants pose for a photograph at a press conference in Phnom Penh organised by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media on Wednesday. Hean Rangsey

Gov’t denies CCIM land concessions report

A government official has denied information recently released by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) about the impact of investment in land concessions in several provinces.

He considered the information to be dated and the problem already solved, but welcomed the investigation of complaints, if any.

The denial comes after the CCIM on Wednesday published an investigative report called Looking at the Development of the Cambodian Economy.

The report was said to have been conducted from July to November through interviews with relevant officials, company representatives, civil society organisations and nore than 100 members of the public.

Speaking on Wednesday to some 30 people at a press conference in the capital, CCIM director Danny Kasper said the report was not a research study, but a press report that had been released for the government and relevant civil society organisations to act on.

“The CCIM is the information body for development. We don’t plan to solve these problems directly. But we leave the challenging problems to the government to solve,” Kasper said.

Findings from the report cited four main issues.

First, the report claimed that some 2,000 families, or around 10,000 people in the districts of Tbeng Meanchey, Chey Sen and Chheb, were losing their community forest land, burial lands, reserved forests and livelihood forests.

This, it said, was after more than 42,000ha of economic land concessions was granted to Chinese-owned Hengfu Sugar Company in 2011. The residents were said to have not received any compensation from the company.

Second, Chinese nationals have been handling businesses that Cambodians used to conduct, negatively affecting around 60 per cent of the province’s residents. At present, Chinese nationals are entitled to set up businesses selling fish, vegetables and cooked rice, and repair cars.

Third, an investment project in Kampot province’s Chhuok district run by former senator Keo Maly’s Ching Kor Import Co Ltd had reclaimed nearly 700ha of the sea to build hotels, spas, villas, vacation houses and restaurants. This had impacted more than 1,000 fishing community families.

Finally, 211 families of the Banong indigenous peoples in Mondulkiri province’s Chak Char village, Sre Chhouk commune, in Keo Seima district, had fallen into debt after they had lost their land and sources of income due to a 90,000ha land investment granted to Vietnamese-owned Binh Phoeuk Sugar Cane Company in 2011.

Morm Moniroth, the consultant who produced the investigative report, said its main aim was to determine the reasons behind the investment-related problems. He cited violations of the Land Law that dictates a company cannot invest in more than 10,000ha of land as part of the problem.

The company, he said, had started its investment before impacts were studied, and this had cost the residents their fundamental rights.

“The livelihoods of indigenous people have relied on on rotating [occupational] plantations and customary traditions, [such as] giving food to the spirits. I ask that if their beliefs, traditions and cultures were to be lost, how [else would the] indigenous peoples’ identities be retained?” he asked.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Srey Vuthy could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

However, Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on Thursday: “This information is outdated. Its dissemination was meant to cause misunderstanding and mislead the public for politically motivated reasons.

“These companies have so far assessed the environmental and social impacts, and some have already been addressed. Land was set aside for the communities and the residents according to the tiger skin principle. Jobs were created in local communities.

“If the Ministry of Environment checks and discovers any irregularity by the companies, it will enforce the law. The ministry will impose fines on the companies or request the revocation of their licences if they fail to abide by the contract,” he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said in principle, it was the government that decided to grant the economic land concessions to the companies. Hence, it had to check and assess the companies.

He said evidently some companies had affected the residents because they had violated the law and ignored its implementation.

“The government always wants collaboration [with the companies] to enforce the law so that both parties benefit. The company gains profits, the government collects taxes to be used for further development, and residents obtain jobs.

“We invest in the health sector and also build road infrastructure, so everyone clearly benefits,” he stressed.

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