The Ministry of Agriculture will request that Prime Minister Hun Sen from now on revoke all economic land concessions (ELCs) whose owners are found guilty of illegal logging or other major forestry crimes, a ministry official said yesterday.
“The [agriculture] minister will ask the government to cancel economic land concessions held by companies that have committed serious forestry crimes,” said Thun Sarath, spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry.
“Company owners must answer to the Forestry Law if they are logging without receiving permission,” Mr. Sarath said, referring to Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun’s recent decision to ask the Council of Ministers to revoke a 4,900-hectare land concession owned by Day Dong Yoeun, a Vietnamese rubber firm that has been illegally logging on a large scale in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district.
Mr. Sarath said that if Mr. Hun Sen—who is responsible for making a final decision on requests sent to the Council of Ministers—agrees to rescind Day Dong Yoeun’s land, other companies would be less likely to similarly abuse their concessions.
“I believe that if the minister [is given permission to] cancel Day Dong Yoeun’s land concession, it will send a message to other agricultural investment companies to respect the government policy and judicial regulation,” he said.
Mr. Sarun could not be reached for comment.
Rights groups yesterday commended the Agriculture Ministry’s decision to request the cancellation of Day Dong Yoeun’s concession, but expressed skepticism that it would necessarily foretell a trend.
“We welcome it, of course, but now we wait for action,” said Nicolas Agostini, a technical assistant on land and natural resource issues for Adhoc.
Mr. Agostini noted that while the Land Law obligated the government to cancel ELCs whose owners do not cultivate their land within a year—which is not uncommon—there is no clear criteria for punishing firms that break the law.
“Usually, so-called disputes between the government and concessionaries [that break the law] are settled though negotiation,” he said, adding that cancellation of such concessions is “very infrequent.”