Report that New ELCs Were Granted to Logging Barons ‘False’

May Titthara / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
General Sao Sokha, deputy chief of the Armed Forces, leads delegation to inspect a timber storage facility in Kratie province. Supplied.

In an open letter to the Ministry of Environment, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) asked yesterday for confirmation of a January 19 report in the Cambodia Daily that said new economic land concessions (ELCs) had been given to two tycoons despite a ban on granting ELCs. 
The January 19 report “Try Pheap Gets New ELC Amid Freeze, Governor Says” quoted Mondulkiri governor Eng Bunheang as saying that Try Pheap and Lim Bunna, two logging magnates, would be given  ELCs in a wildlife sanctuary, after the land had been taken back from other companies that had violated their ELC contracts.   
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the CCHR, asked how the land could be granted to the tycoons, after a directive issued in 2012 by Prime Minister Hun Sen said that no new ELCs would be granted. She also voiced concerns about new land grants leading to deforestation. “If the companies are not being given a new ELC,” she said, “please explain what land rights have been given to those companies, and ensure that there won’t be more deforestation.” 
Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said he had assured her that the article in the Daily was factually incorrect. 
“I explained the facts to the Cambodia Daily reporter when he interviewed me,” Mr. Sopheap said. “I told them there was no more exploitation of ELCs. The ministry gave the right to the two companies to only gather timber [collected] by two other companies before them… Khmer Angkor Agriculture and Dai Nam companies.”
The companies whose ELCs were cancelled have no legal right to sell the timber from the trees felled on their ELCs, and companies granted the right to collect and sell this timber must pay a tax to the government on the revenue they earn, Mr. Sopheap said.
The Daily article quoted Mr. Bunheang as saying that the two cancelled ELCs had been transferred to the tycoons by Environment Minister Say Sam Al.
Aun Pheap, the reporter who wrote the article, said he did not have any documents to confirm this had happened. “I don’t have any document to confirm my claim, but the authority in that area told me like that. I’m contacting the Ministry of Environment to check if they have such documents,” Mr. Pheap told Khmer Times yesterday.
On August 27, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a statement saying that the government would not allow companies that had violated their ELC contracts to transfer them to other companies. Instead, the land would be confiscated and given to landless families.

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