A team of Forestry Administration and Agriculture Ministry officials visited Preah Vihear province in November to survey land for a proposed land concession of more than 60,000 hectares being sought by a Chinese rubber company, according to information obtained Tuesday.
The size of the proposed concession far exceeds legal limits and could encroach on protected forest, officials said Monday.
Four officials from the Agriculture Ministry and two from the Forestry Administration reportedly surveyed the land identified by Suigang Investment Development Co Ltd as the site of a potential rubber plantation. They also reportedly met with provincial First Deputy Governor Pall San, who welcomed the project.
According to information received, Suigang requested the land from the Ministry of Agriculture in October for rubber and other crops on 90,000 hectares, 88 percent of which is covered by deciduous forests.
But the government team found that due to existing land concessions in the province, the land available amounted to only 66,000 hectares, according to information.
Kith Seng, director of the planning department at the Agriculture Ministry, said he had a copy of the government team’s report on the visit to Preah Vihear.
“The report from the team is in my hand,” he said, but denied that the concession would exceed the 10,000-hectare limit set by the 2001 Land Law.
He added that his ministry still needed time to review the request.
“The government cannot give [that much]. According to law, we can only give 10,000 [hectares],” he said. “We are not yet arrived [at a] contract.”
On Friday, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that China’s biggest rubber producer, Hainan Natural Rubber Industry Group Corp, had signed a deal with Suigang to plant rubber on a land concession of nearly 63,000 hectares.
Xinhua identified Suigang as a Cambodian firm, though the information obtained Tuesday indicates that it is in fact a state-owned Chinese firm based in the island province of Hainan.
Mike Davis of Global Witness, the government’s former forestry watchdog, said Suigang officials visited Preah Vihear toward the end of last year.
“They were accompanied by a group of Cambodian officials, including a one-star general,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Preah Vihear First Deputy Governor Pall San said by telephone that he had been approached by Chinese and Cambodian officials asking whether land in the province was suitable for growing rubber, though he denied having met the agriculture and forestry officials.
He said the area discussed had little land suitable for rubber cultivation and that the legal limit would apply to concessions in the province.
Forestry Administration spokesman Thun Sarath said administration officials were not involved in facilitating the concession talks, but were merely in inspecting the land beforehand.
The administration would not allow its officials to become involved in such a deal, he said.
“We keep [forests] for the future generations. The forest must have proper management,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)
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