The government has granted tens of thousands of hectares of unlawful land concessions to a small group of companies, some of them owned by the same person, a coalition of rights groups said Wednesday.
The concessions violated portions of the land law and a sub-decree on economic land concessions, according to the coalition, comprised of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, NGO Forum and Housing Rights Task Force.
The law says that each concession must be below 10,000 hectares for any individual owner of a company.
But an investigation into the deals found “that although different locations are granted as land economic concessions to different company names, they are of course run and owned by only the same physical person with the size bigger than 10,000 hectares,” according to the coalition.
The coalition specifically named the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, granted 9,700 hectares in 2006; the Angkor Sugar Investment Company, granted 9,863 hectares in 2007; and the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, granted 8,343 hectares in 2010.
All three companies are owned by Ly Yong Phat, a powerful senator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party who is currently engaged in an ongoing land dispute for the 2010 concession, in Kampong Speu province’s Omlieng commune, Thpong district.
“Such provision of land concessions is clearly contradicted to…Article 59 of [the] Land Law,” the coalition said in a statement.
Omlieng villagers say the Phnom Penh Sugar Company has pushed them from their farms, and they have staged multiple protests in the commune and provincial capital, including the burning of several company buildings and a bulldozer.
The coalition said the unlawful concessions “do not really contribute to a sustainable national development of Cambodia” and instead create a negative reputation for the country. The groups called on the government to cease new concessions, publicly review current ones and cancel those that are not in line with the land law.
They also recommended the government return land to people that was lost in unlawful concessions.