Prime Minister Hun Sen has denied media reports he violated his own ban on economic land concessions, saying he only signed contracts that had been agreed upon prior to his decision.
Local media have reported in recent days Hun Sen’s signature on multiple land concessions, which are at the heart of a growing problem of rural landlessness and unrest.
According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, Hun Sen has signed concessions on more than 65,000 hectares of land since declaring a ban on May 7. The concessions include land in protected wildlife parks.
Hun Sen appeared to be reacting to reports in English-language newspapers that detailed the land concessions, including in wildlife parks in the provinces of Mondolkiri, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear.
Hun Sen signed seven separate land concessions on June 7, totaling 44,460 hectares, according to documents, which was added to around 21,000 hectares he signed off on in May and June.
Hun Sen said in a public speech he had already agreed to those before declaring his ban.
However, Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said land concessions in national parks are illegal no matter what and should not have land concessions granted within their boundaries. “He cannot grant [land] in reserve areas,” Ou Virak said.