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Thousands of Hectares Taken Back from Concessions

Cambodia land and forest activists stand at a blocked street near the National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, May 29, 2014.

Cambodian authorities have taken back thousands of hectares of land concessions from eight private companies, in order to create a national park, officials say.

More than 13,000 hectares were returned to the government in four provinces, after companies were found to have done little with the concessions, Environment Minister Say Samal told reporters Monday.

Land concessions are a major source of rural distress for many Cambodians, who may lack titles to land due to poor bureaucracy but are nevertheless displaced by concession companies who attempt economic projects such as rubber plantations.

Some 2.2 million acres have been granted to companies, affecting 420,000 people, according to the rights group Licadho, which monitors concessions closely.

Say Samal said in a press conference Monday that some of that land has been taken back, in the provinces of Kampot, Kampong Speu, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk.

“They had spent years without any activities, so it’s easy, and a main reason for us to take back the land,” the minister said. “The land will be preserved as a national park.”

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, applauded the move, but he said it had not come soon enough.

“It was quite late,” he said. “We have been waiting for this for too long. Not only those companies, but we believe there are more out there, conducting illegal businesses. We welcome the ministry’s action, but we hope there will be punishments too.”