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World Bank To Review Environmental Complaints Against Company

Cambodian villagers affected by the loss of land in Prey Lang forest in the north of the country pray at a Buddhist shrine in central Phnom Penh, file photo.

Cambodian villagers affected by the loss of land in Prey Lang forest in the north of the country pray at a Buddhist shrine in central Phnom Penh, file photo.

Editor's note: Please see correction at the end of the article.

The World Bank says it will investigate reports from indigenous groups in Cambodia that a company funded by the bank’s International Finance Corporation is involved in deforestation and land grabs.

The bank’s Office of the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman, or CAO, will first examine the credibility of the allegations by the groups against the company, Hoang Anh Gia Lai, Emily Horgan, a spokeswoman for the office, told VOA Khmer.

The office will then examine issues to address environmental and social impacts of the IFC, Horgan said.

Supporters of the 17 hill tribe groups from northeastern Cambodia say they believe the complaint will meet World Bank standards for review. The tribes jointly filed a complaint over the company to the World Bank last week.

“They have a responsibility to stay engaged to address the very serious harms that have been caused as the result of this investment,” said David Pred, executive director of Inclusive Development International, an NGO aiding the communities, which come from the remote province of Ratanakiri.

The tribes say some 2,000 families could be affected by a concession granted to the company, which has begun clearing some 47,000 hectares of land in the province.

Megan MacInnes, a campaigner for the environmental watchdog Global Witness, said she expects the CAO to address the issues in the complaint. “What we hope is that the CAO will undertake an assessment of the situation and then lead the mediation process between the communities affected in Ratanakiri and Hoang Anh Gia Lai and also with the Cambodian government,” she said.

The Cambodian government’s development policy has failed to protect villagers in the province and to protect the natural environment there, she said. “So we have to ask the question: what happens to other communities across Cambodia who also have lost their forests to economic land concessions and don’t have access to international mechanisms such as the IFC.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the ministries of Environment and Agriculture make proper assessments before granting land concessions to companies. The case against Hoang Anh Gia Lai should have been taken to Cambodia court, he said. “The Royal Government is responsible for its own people.”

However, Sal Hneuy, a representative of the hill tribes, told VOA Khmer by phone from Ratanakiri that the government did not consult with villagers in the area before making the land grant. And the company itself has used military police to protect the grant, he said. It has also offered $25 to $80 per hectare for people’s land, or they will take it anyway, he said.

“These communities only want the land for rotating crops,” he said. Villagers, who are generally poor and illiterate, are losing forest, grazing land, sacred forests, burial grounds and access to resin trees and other non-timber products, he said.

CLARIFICATION: This Feb. 18 story, "World Bank To Review Environmental Complaints Against Company," should have stated that the bank's Office of the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman, or CAO, has received a complaint that is pending a decision regarding its eligibility. CAO is not examining the credibility of the allegations, as was originally reported. VOA Khmer regrets the error. Read corrected version here.