Environment Ministry Denies Issuing New ELC to Logging Firm

The Ministry of Environment on Thursday denied that a private agro-industry firm had been issued an “unofficial” land concession inside Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary, as stated on Monday by the provincial governor.

In response to claims by local officials that Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd. was logging luxury hardwood outside the boundaries of its 2011 government-issued economic land concession (ELC) inside the sanctuary, Ratanakkiri governor Pao Ham Phan on Monday said the company had been granted a second tract on which to grow cassava and rubber.

“This is not an official concession,” Mr. Ham Phan said at the time.

On Thursday, the Environment Ministry strenuously denied that any ELCs had been awarded inside protected zones since Prime Minister Hun Sen placed a moratorium on the issuing of new concessions in May last year.

“The Ministry of Environment would like to state that since [the moratorium] it has not provided any more concessions for investment or development projects in the protected natural area that is controlled by the ministry,” a letter signed by acting Environment Minister Khieu Muth said.

That Daun Penh Agrico received a second allotment, the letter says, “is not true, because the Ministry of Environment acts according to the law.”

“The Ministry is thoroughly reforming the management of natural resources,” it adds.

On Wednesday, Chou Sopheak, director of the Lumphat district environment department also denied that Daun Penh Agrico had been granted a second concession, but then claimed he had no way of knowing whether firms with ELCs inside the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary were logging legally or illegally, as “there are no marked boundaries to show the extent of the companies’ land.”

Contacted Thursday, Mr. Ham Phan said he had been “misunderstood.”

“The Minister of Environment has reprimanded me,” he said, declining to comment further.

Former Environment Minister Mok Mareth, who currently chairs the National Assembly’s Third Commission on Environment and Water Resources, said he urged the media to go easy on Mr. Ham Phan.

“Don’t mistreat him, because I just called him to scold him this afternoon,” Mr. Mareth said.

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