A ruling-party parliamentarian, a CPP senator’s family member and a business associate of the prime minister’s daughter are among the latest recipients of state-land transfers that have been distributing lakes, forests and wildlife sanctuaries to the country’s elite.
The government granted thousands of hectares of social land concessions in Koh Kong, Mondulkiri and Kampong Thom provinces, in addition to grants of private land to officials and business owners.
The latest batch of land grants — all signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in March but published by the Council of Ministers this week — included two social land concessions controlled by the World Bank under its Lased land distribution program.
The first, signed on March 15, granted 793 hectares in Kampong Thom province under the Lased system. Based on protected area maps, a portion of the concession would overlap with Boeng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, but the sub decree did not mention whether it would involve declassifying a protected area.
Kampong Thom’s deputy provincial governor Sok Hai could not be reached for comment, but Mease Yoav, chief of Prasat Balaing district’s Phan Nhoeum commune, said that the World Bank project land would be distributed to 190 families who don’t have land, but the recipients haven’t been identified yet.
“They will benefit a lot from the projects,” he said. “They might receive a plot of residential land, plus farming equipment and training courses regarding [raising] animals or fish and irrigation systems, and [they also will] receive 2 to 3 hectares of farmland and other seeds and a health center.”
He added that the land had previously been state land.
“After people have cleared all the forest, it turned into a deforested area,” he said. “There were 40 families that cultivated on the land.”
Another World Bank land concession was created on 1,021 hectares in Battambang province, completely within Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. The sub-decree was signed on March 17.
Lach Ham, chief of Samlot district’s Kampong Lpov commune, said the Cambodian Mine Action Center is currently clearing the land of mines before it’s to be distributed to families.
“This area used to be a battlefield and used to have forest, but now it has turned into a deforested area,” he told VOD.
He said there were 216 families in his commune who are poor, but he wasn’t sure yet how this area would be distributed to the people.
“Some families do not have land or farmland, and they just recently moved in to live, and they will have suitable land for living and [it will] help reduce poverty and reduce the migration overseas,” Ham said.
The residents who were uprooted by the sprawling Union Development Group concessions within Botum Sakor National Park were also granted 1,154 hectares of land for relocation. According to the sub-decree, this area would be part of a future social land concession in Koh Kong province.
A previous concession, sprawling over 8,906 hectares, had been granted between the new relocation land and the company’s coastal concession in November 2014, according to an older sub-decree.
In Mondulkiri, one final social land concession was drawn onto 2,913 hectares of land in Sen Monorom commune, cutting plots for 147 families. The area includes 693 hectares cut out of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as 2,192 hectares from a 10,000-hectare economic land concession that was granted to Wuzhishan LS Group in 2005.
Mondulkiri’s deputy provincial governor Cheak Meng Heang told VOD that the people who would receive the land have lived there for a long time.
“When the committee came and checked that it was suitable and that people were cultivating on it, they privatized it and cut it off for them. There is no problem with this,” he said.
Meng Heang hung up the phone before a reporter could ask more.
Another 334 hectares was broken off from the Mondulkiri concession and wildlife sanctuary for a private individual — Choeung Thean Seng — according to a March 24 sub decree.
Late last year, Thean Seng received 100 hectares of Boeng Tamok lake in Phnom Penh. He is also the son of Choeung Sopheap, one of the country’s most prominent tycoons whose firms are known for filling in Boeng Kak lake and previously receiving a 300,000-hectare land concession. Sopheap is married to Senator Lao Meng Khin.
The new batch of sub decrees also included two more private land grants on Boeng Tamok lake: one 4.72-hectare area going to Srey Rositha and Ou Vouchlin, and another 3.45-hectare piece to Cheng Srunheng.
Srunheng had previously received 19.23 hectares of Boeng Tamok in January. The other two private land grantees could not immediately be identified.
In southern Phnom Penh, a 10.6-hectare strip of land running between Hun Sen Boulevard and Street 371 had been granted to oknha Lork Huor, a National Assembly lawmaker from Battambang.
Huor previously had a land dispute with families in Kandal province’s Sa’ang and Kien Svay district, and the year before had been named on a “blacklist” of disputants by the Land Ministry. RFI has also identified Huor as a three-star general.
Two private individuals, Nuth Ton and Ly Akhara, received 92.6 hectares of land in Preah Sihanouk province’s Keo Phos commune, inside Stung Hav district.
Ton is a director of Orkide Villa company, alongside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana and Khieu Sarsileap, who is also a shareholder for the infamous logging company Timbergreen.
The Interior Ministry also received a 1.8-hectare triangle of land in between Phnom Penh and Kandal, according to a sub decree signed March 9.