One of four rubber plantations operated by the Vietnamese military in Ratanakkiri province had its contract with the government canceled last month amid accusations that it had engaged in illegal logging and had allowed Vietnamese farmers to encroach on Cambodian land, the director of the provincial agriculture department said on Monday.
The Dai Dong Duong economic land concession (ELC) was one of four in the northeastern province whose shares were quietly bought up over the past few years by various units of the Vietnamese army, according to Commerce Ministry records and Vietnamese state media.
Ethnic Jarai villagers have repeatedly accused the plantations of encroaching on their ancestral forests. In June, the Foreign Affairs Ministry complained to Hanoi about a group of irrigation ponds on Dai Dong Duong’s property allegedly dug by Vietnamese farmers from across the nearby border, which has yet to be fully demarcated. The Agriculture Ministry said in November that the company would be reviewed.
On Monday, the director of the Ratanakkiri agriculture department, Soy Sona, said the government canceled Dai Dong Duong’s concession in February for failing to develop its property.
“The government canceled the ELC investment project of the Dai Dong Duong company because since they got the land they have not done any work on it as required by their contract with the government,” Mr. Sona said. “This company did not do any work on the land because it did not have enough money to invest.”
He said the 9,000 hectares initially granted to Dai Dong Duong was cut down to about 5,000 hectares in 2012, when authorities started gradually handing pieces of land back to indigenous communities in the area.
Deputy provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun said the company had planted rubber trees on about 800 hectares and would be compensated for the loss.
Mr. Sam Oeun confirmed the concession had been canceled but said the decision was made in order to preclude the company from allowing any more Vietnamese farmers onto the site from across the contentious border, which abuts the ELC’s eastern boundary.
“We canceled the ELC because the land is close to the border and the government was worried that border problems would happen in the future,” he said.
Mr. Sona said the border row had nothing to do with the decision. As for the other three plantations run by the Vietnamese military, they had not been reviewed and would continue operating, he said.
Agriculture Ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth, who said in November that Dai Dong Duong would be reviewed, said on Monday he did not know the fate of the plantation, nor that of the other three, because he was still compiling the results of a nationwide ELC review that wrapped up a few months ago.
“I have no comment…because I have not put together everything yet,” he said.
Romash Svat, a Jarai villager who lives near the former Dai Dong Duong plantation, said he did not know that the concession had been canceled but was glad to hear it.
“The villagers have faced many difficulties because when we tried to clear our land for rotational farming, or went to hunt in the forest, the companies stopped us and told us that the forest belonged to them because they bought it from the government,” he said. “I think the people in the village will be very happy that the ELC was canceled…because the livelihoods of the villagers depend on the forest products.”