The government has seized another 62,000 hectares worth of economic land concessions held by 11 private companies because they have failed to develop the land or adversely affected villagers living there, Environment Minister Say Sam Al said yesterday.
The announcement brings the total number of ELCs that have been cancelled in the past month to 18, representing some 74,000 hectares.
Firms have long been criticised for obtaining concessions, logging the area and then not developing the land as promised.
Rights groups yesterday praised the move but said it was too little, too late.
The concessions cancelled are in Kampong Speu, Preah Sihanouk, Mondolkiri, Banteay Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Oddar Meanchey, Battambang and Kratie provinces, though some overlap between two provinces where concessions have been granted in national parks.
Out of the 11 firms, two had their land area reduced significantly but not entirely cancelled. Kirirom Ecotourism Investment had their 609 hectare concession in the national park cut to just 20 hectares because they had “affected the people’s living”, Sam Al said.
TTY, a firm with a concession in Kratie’s Snoul district, now only holds onto 215 hectares of what was a 9,780 hectare concession.
“[The company] also had a dispute with villagers, so we are working with people [about what to do without the remaining land]” Sam Al said.
In January 2012, TTY security guards opened fire on local villagers protesting to stop the company clearing their cassava fields, injuring four.
Sam Al said that while some concessions had been cancelled because they were granted in areas occupied by villagers, some claims made by “residents” were bogus.
“Some had not been living on that land before [it was leased],” he said. “However, we acknowledge that our decisions have also affected villages. For this, we have worked hard with companies to implement a ‘tiger skin policy’ of cutting land for people.”
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator with rights group Adhoc welcomed the moves. “But I think the wrongdoer who has violated those ELC contracts and depleted our natural resources should be punished through law because they have logged to be rich while their vicitims are just normal people,” he said.