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Villagers push government to revoke ‘idle’ ELC

Community members show ELC land that they want to see reclaimed from a company in Kampot province late last month
Community members show ELC land that they want to see reclaimed from a company in Kampot province late last month. Photo supplied.

Villagers push government to revoke ‘idle’ ELC

Villagers in Kampot’s Chhouk district have demanded that a private firm they accuse of failing to develop its economic land concession (ELC) have its permit to use the land revoked.

The company, World Tristar Entertainment Co, Ltd, a property of So Nguon Group Co, Ltd, is alleged to have prevented local villagers from farming the land, subjected them to intimidation and cleared the land’s forests to sell timber rather than developing it according to its agreement with the government.

World Tristar received its 6,100-hectare Kampot ELC in 2005. Under the Land Law, agribusinesses must develop their ELCs within a year of acquisition.

However, Heng Virak, investigator for rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the company had so far only set aside 100 hectares to grow acacia trees, and “keeps the rest of the land free”, preferring instead to simply fell timber. Now, he said, the company is “trying to move people off the land and chasing them away”.

Villagers yesterday acknowledged not having title to the land, but argued that World Tristar was hurting their livelihoods without following through on its obligation to develop it.

Kal Seng, 64, said the company had forbidden her from growing her banana crop, which had long been situated within the ELC. “I want the government to remove the economic land concession from this company because they just keep the land without doing anything,” she said.

But in an email yesterday, a World Tristar spokesperson denied any wrongdoing. “Information that we profited from logging sales is false,” they wrote. “There are no big trees there.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARTIN DE BOURMONT

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