Cambodia’s environmental minister claimed this week that problems stemming from the country’s economic land concessions were solved, a notion that was called into question by a civil society organization that monitors land issues in the Southeast Asian country.
“We established a Land Concession Monitoring Commission, and we have already cleaned up the issues,” Environment Minister Say Sam Al told reporters following a Wednesday hearing before the National Assembly’s Commission on Planning, Investment, Agriculture, Rural Development, Environment and Water Resources.
“For now, the important tasks are work related to [land] production and planting techniques,” Say Sam Al explained. “There remain little problems that we need to further work out, but in general, we have completely solved the issue.”
Economic land concessions (ELCs) have been at the heart of land disputes between the government and its citizens as residents are often forced off their land so that it can be exploited.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Land Reform Project Coordinator Vann Sophat criticized Say Sam Al’s claim on Wednesday, telling RFA’ Khmer Service that it does not reflect reality.
“It has not yet been completely solved,” Vann Sophat said. “In a number of communities that I worked in such as in Preah Vihear, Mondul Kiri, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng, Koh Kong, etc., I don’t see any solution in the short term.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has issued concessions to more than 2.1 million hectares of Cambodian land to investors, including major Chinese and Vietnamese companies and local firms with ties to the governing Cambodian People’s Party (C.P.P.), according to a 2015 report by the human rights group LICADHO.
While Hun Sen’s government has been responsible for issuing the land concessions, he has taken some steps to disarm a potent political issue.
In February 2016, Hun Sen announced that the government was taking back about 1 million hectares from investment companies that had been granted the concessions. At the time he said the land would be doled out to the poor, and the government also reduced the duration of economic land concession investment from 90 years to only 50 years
At the time Hun Sen said the land taken back would be doled out to the poor, but information on the plans has been scarce.
Reported for RFA's Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.