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Ministry vows to take some ELC land back

Allegedly illegally felled timber sits in an ELC owned by Try Pheap last year
Allegedly illegally felled timber sits in an ELC owned by Try Pheap last year. The Ministry of Environment is implementing a new mechanism to monitor timber processing in ELCs. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Ministry vows to take some ELC land back

Amid promises reiterated by the government yesterday that it will take a tougher stance on economic land concessions, logging tycoon Try Pheap minimally reduced his sweeping natural resource empire, returning more than 20,000 hectares of undeveloped forestry.

It was unclear what kind of arrangement prompted Pheap to give back land inside Ratanakkiri’s Virachey National Park, as Environment Minister Say Sam Al provided no reasoning for the announcement and Pheap could not be reached for comment.

Sam Al did say that concessionaires who do not use their land will see their property repossessed.

“We will urge [ELC] companies to follow their master plan, and if they do not conscientiously do so, or have enough money to complete their intentions, we will seize the land back,” Sam Al said.

Nearly a third of the Virachey National Park’s territory has been granted as ELCs, with a small handful of different companies, including the Try Pheap Company, owning over 100,000 hectares of the park, according to Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

Thy added that the Try Pheap Company did not develop its portion of the granted land.

In addition to announcing Pheap’s returned property yesterday, Sam Al also said that in order to further protect biodiversity and forest coverage, the government will soon levy a tax on concessionaires wishing to clear forested areas.

However, he was not forthcoming on precise details, including how much would be charged or how such a mechanism could be enforced.

He did stress that any collected timber would need to be reported and that furniture makers will have to specify their wood suppliers.

“The timber-processing places need to be rechecked,” he said. “We must know the sources of the timber and where they come from.”

In Ratanakkiri, the government has granted concessions to a total of 30 international and national companies, supplying them with a total of nearly 136,000 hectares of land.

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