Carving up the Cardamoms: Conservationists fear massive land grab in Cambodia

Conservationists have expressed concern over a recently published regulation that makes nearly 127,000 hectares (313,800 acres) of previously protected land potentially available for sale or rent to politically connected businesses.

A new regulation signed into law in March this year but only unveiled publicly in May will see almost 127,000 hectares (313,800 acres) of previously protected land in Cambodia made available for sale or rent, prompting fears among conservationists about a land grab for some of the country’s best-preserved ecosystems.

On paper, Sub-decree No. 30 , signed March 2 by Prime Minister Hun Sen, transfers ownership of 126,928.39 hectares from the Ministry of Environment and the various conservation NGOs that assist in the management of the protected areas, to the Koh Kong provincial administration. Ostensibly, this transfer of land, measuring half the size of Luxembourg, is meant “for distribution to people, while retaining partial land as private property to be held by Koh Kong Provincial Administration.”

It’s seen as a readjustment of the protected areas, the mapping of which saw thousands of Cambodians lose their homes as the government and conservation NGOs took control of land that had housed many communities for generations. As such, this latest sub-decree presents an opportunity for many communities living in cleared sections of the protected areas to acquire land titles — but it also presents an opportunity for tycoons with connections to the Koh Kong provincial land management committee, chaired by Governor Mithona Puthong of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

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