ACU Accepts Complaint on Phnom Tamao Land Privatization

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A deer captured on a camera trap in Phnom Tamao’s forested area. (Nick Marx Wildlife Alliance)

The Anti-Corruption Unit is looking into a complaint by an environmental group alleging irregularities in the privatization of forest land at Phnom Tamao in Takeo province.

Government documents, maps and meetings released in May show that vast tracts of the forest land — so far excluding the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center — will be privatized. Three plots — covering 500, 300 and 10 hectares of land respectively — have been earmarked in government documents, while a separate map shows that notorious tycoon Khun Sea had requested for two pieces of land, spanning 520 and 160 hectares.

Tan Kimsour, who heads the Baitong Warriors environmental group, submitted a complaint to the Anti-Corruption Unit asking for an investigation into which companies were being given land in the protected area. 

Kimsour writes in the complaint that he had heard rumors about the land transfers and was worried that Prime Minister Hun Sen had been lied to by officials to privatize the land. 

He added that he had spoken to the head of Khmer Fresh Milk, a dairy operating right outside the forested area, and asked if they were getting the land. Rithy Chhor, who runs the company, denied getting land. 

Early Council of Ministers documents show that one plot slated for transfer was 300 hectares housing Khmer Fresh Milk’s Kirisu dairy farm, which appears to be currently adjacent to, but outside, forested areas in Phnom Tamao’s southeast. It was not clear whether the 300 hectares would encroach on the forest.

Om Yentieng, ACU boss, said the unit had received the complaint and that it would take a few days to process the document. He had no assessment about the allegations. 

“The first step is to open a complaint analysis meeting immediately after receiving the complaint for one or two days. The plaintiff has access to the debate and can comment or defend his or her claim,” he said. 

The potential destruction of the Phnom Tamao forested land has sparked some outpouring of support from Facebook users and celebrities. But, most of them have spoken in support of the Wildlife Alliance-run wildlife rescue center, which is not slated for privatization. 

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon issued a letter in May assuring Wildlife Alliance that the center would remain untouched but failed to address the potential destruction of the surrounding forests.

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