The European Union said yesterday it has begun investigating allegations that local firms taking advantage of an EU free-trade scheme have illegally thrown hundreds of families off their land in provinces across the country.
Under the EU’s Anything But Arms scheme, Cambodian sugar firms have exported tens of thousand of tons of sugar to the trading block’s half-a-billion consumers duty free. But human rights activists have claimed that the deal is little more than a subsidy for corporate land grabbers.
Rafael Dochao-Moreno, the EU’s charge d’affaires in Cambodia, announced the investigation at the end of a two-day forum the EU had sponsored in the capital on human rights.
“We are analyzing…certain situations in these provinces, and this is something we are analyzing now,” he said.
Mr Moreno said his office would be reaching out to the UN and non-government groups for help, and that it was too soon to speculate on what actions the EU might take, let alone sanctions.
“Before you can say it is white or black, you need to have all the information,” he said. “So we are going to get information on all these things to have a clear picture.”
Mr Moreno made no mention of an investigation when contacted last week about complaints against the trade scheme. Yesterday, however, he said new information had come to light the day before. He said the information came by way of a letter, but declined to elaborate.
Mr Moreno said a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen to the opposition SRP defending the land deals granted to the firms involved in the allegations-including CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company-had also changed the dynamics of the issue.
With that letter, he said, “this issue is big enough for us to take a position.”
However, Mr Moreno continued to defend the EU trade deal.
“Everything But Arms is doing well for Cambodia in general terms,” he said. “This trade…is allowing Cambodia to export a lot of products to the EU,” putting tens of thousand of people to work.