Prime Minister Hun Sen has signed off on four more economic land concessions (ELCs), all in protected areas, despite placing a moratorium on granting such leases on May 7.
Since the May 7 sub-decree, the premier has now signed off on seven concessions totalling 56,586 hectares to develop agro-industry, though his cabinet has argued that three granted on May 18 did not flout the ban because they were ELCs already in the final stages of approval.
The latest Royal Gazette reveals more than 35,000 hectares were granted in ELCs to four companies on June 7.
When asked why the leases had been granted in apparent contradiction of the moratorium, Council of Minister’s spokesman Phay Siphan said he was not aware of the concessions and believed there were no arrangements for new ELCs.
“We’re afraid that they just changed the owner from the old document [ELC],” he said.
Khun Sea Import Export was granted 8,200 hectares of land in Oddar Meanchey province’s Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, and A2A Town (Cambodia) Co Ltd received a 9,668- hectare ELC in the Kirirom National Park that stretches across Kampong Speu and Preah Sihanouk provinces.
In Mondulkiri’s Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, the Lim Royal Joint Company received 9,068 hectares, while the Roath Sokhorn Company was granted 9,000 hectares in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.
Lim Leang Se, deputy director of the prime minister’s cabinet, restated the terms of the moratorium and denied more ELCs had been granted without further elaborating.
“The premier stopped granting ELCs for private companies and appealed for specific verification on the documents [for existing ELCs],” he said.
The moratorium came ahead of commune council elections on June 3, in which the endemic turmoil and violence caused by ELCs was a core focus of opposition party campaigns.
Opposition groups, political analysts and rights groups were sceptical of the premier’s sincerity given the timing of the moratorium and seized on the May 18 concessions, which had all the hallmarks of but were not explicitly titled ELCs, as proof he had never intended to stick to his word.
On June 14, Hun Sen went further, ordering authorities all over the country to measure land plots for villagers affected by every ELC within the country, and to do so within six months.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday the latest ELCs further confirmed that the moratorium had merely been a political stunt to curry favour with the electorate and called on the government to stop granting concessions to private companies.
“The government should grant that land to Cambodian citizens who have no land for farming,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, said Hun Sen was losing the trust of villagers.
“If he still grants more economic land concessions, it will cause his low-level officers who are working to settle the land disputes to have no will to work on that, because they see the government’s measure,” Ath said.
“Land concessions are the main resources that create land disputes around the country, so the government should stop granting economic land concessions, as he [Hun Sen] issued in the directive.”
The rate at which economic land concessions are granted is rapidly accelerating.
The government granted more than 2.2 million hectares for agro-industry last year, two-thirds of them in protected areas, according to the rights group Adhoc.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]