Government Starts Preparing Confiscated ELCs for Poor

Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim said on Monday his staff were already at work studying land that the government has confiscated from economic land concession (ELC) owners for redistribution to poor families, though details on the location of the sites remained elusive.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the end of the government’s yearslong review of the country’s ELCs and said that almost half of the more than 2 million hectares that were handed out to companies for their agribusiness projects had been reappropriated. He said the nearly 1 million hectares freed up by the review would be doled out to poor, landless families, but offered few details.

On the sidelines of the Land Management Ministry’s annual meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday, Mr. Chhun Lim said dozens of teams had started studying 21 sites among the canceled ELCs to make sure they will make suitable social land concessions for the poor.

“We have 32 work teams led by officials from the Ministry of Land Management, and others from the ministries of agriculture and environment and local authorities. They are taking measurements at 21 locations,” he said.

“After we gather the data, we will set up the actual program and make the plans to distribute the land, but not yet. The measurements need to be done transparently in order to know what land is available and what land is being used by people.”

Untitled families and indigenous ethnic minority communities already live on some of the ELCs, whose owners are often accused by locals and rights groups of having grabbed the land.

Besides checking whether the land at the sites is actually free, the work teams were also looking into other factors that could disqualify some of the property the government has reappropriated, Mr. Chhun Lim told the audience.

“It does not mean that all of that land can be used for social land concessions because, first, most of it is remote and, second, we need to check whether it is good or not. If we give out rocky land, that’s not good,” he said.

Mr. Chhun Lim said local authorities would be responsible for choosing the families who will eventually get to move onto the sites, though he gave no time frame.

The government has yet to give a breakdown of the nearly 1 million hectares that Mr. Hun Sen claimed had been reappropriated from concessionaires and rights groups remain skeptical of the figure.

Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who headed the committee that reviewed the ELCs, could not be reached for comment. Van Sam Oeun, who also sat on the committee and serves as Mr. Bin Chhin’s deputy at the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, said he did not have a list of the affected ELCs and referred the question to the ministries.

Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, refused to share a copy of the list because, he said, a press conference on the land review was due in the next few weeks. A spokesman for the Environment Ministry could not be reached.

(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap and Zsombor Peter)

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