The 3,200-square-km economic land concession granted to the Pheapimex Company 13 years ago stretches over two provinces and will soon contain acacia and cassava plantations the company is currently developing despite villager protests.
But in the hills of Samakki Meanchey and Toek Phos districts in Kompong Chhnang province, the concession will soon give way to something else: a new 7,000-hectare training center for the RCAF National Counterterrorism Task Force commanded by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Brigadier General Hun Manet.
In a sub-decree signed in January, Mr Hun Sen authorized the excision of 6,862.48 hectares from the Pheapimex concession, reclassifying it as public state land.
The land was to be given “to the commander of the national military police to create a training center for the national special counterterrorism base,” the sub-decree said.
Commanded by the premier’s son, whose star is rising in the armed forces, the counterterrorism task force enjoys a prominent place in the changing face of Cambodia’s military. Comprising elements of the 70th Infantry and 911th Airborne Infantry brigades, long among the premier’s most trusted RCAF units, the task force received marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat training from the US Marines 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2007.
Surrounded by the Pheapimex Concession, which is itself 31 times larger than the legal size limit established in 2005, the new training center will be in friendly territory, as the company’s owners are well-known friends of the premier and his wife.
Ty Kim Toc, a company representative, said yesterday that he had no information about the transfer of land to the counterterrorism task force and declined to comment.
But Kong Sam In, chief of Kraing Skear commune in Toek Phos, confirmed that the transfer of more than 6,000 hectares had occurred.
“It belongs to the military police,” he said.
Attempts to reach RCAF officials were unsuccessful. General Sao Sokha, commander of the military police, could not be reached and his deputy, Major General Sin Sophany, declined to comment.
Chea Phorn, 44, a representative of villagers in Kraing Skear commune, said yesterday that local inhabitants had been informed of the future training center.
“We have heard that the government planned to start this year, but we have not seen anything yet,” he said, recalling that in March RCAF artillery tested Soviet-made, truck-mounted rockets, which landed in the area slated for development.
Kek Pung, president of the human rights organization Licadho, said yesterday that if the government could devote part of the Pheapimex concession to the military, it should also benefit local communities.
In neighboring Pursat province, Krakor commune villagers say the company is clearing forests they depend on to earn a living.
“We want to see the government give land to the villagers as it does with the military police,” ms Pung said. “If the government can do so, the villagers would receive the benefit and happiness.”