Mondolkiri provincial authorities have officially canceled 50 land concessions that covered some 260,000 hectares of land in the province claiming the private owners had failed to develop their blocs, and have called instead for “real investors” to apply for economic land concessions, officials said Friday.
According to a copy of an announcement signed by provincial governor Chan Yoeun, and dated Jan 4, the province welcomes “new or existing companies who are willing to make a real investment and have capital and ability,” and cancels the concessions of 50 companies, including Try Pheap, Lok Ninh rubber plantation, and Yatin International Trust and Investment, among others.
Mondolkiri Deputy Provincial Governor Aisi Sokuntheari said on Friday that the concessions, which were granted by the government, were cancelled because they were not sufficiently developed.
“We cancelled them because they did not do any activities for development,” she said. “We need new investors to develop.”
In November, Mondolkiri authorities called on the same 50 companies, plus two others, to report on their investment activities in the province or risk the cancellation of their concession areas.
According to Ms Sokuntheari, the 52 companies named in November had only been granted temporary land concessions by either the Agriculture Ministry or the Council of Ministers for one or two years of onsite study, and they had yet to be granted final approval by the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
“These firms have never contacted provincial authorities to report on their arrival to invest in the province,” Ms Sokuntheari said in November.
“And some have [illegally] cleared the land in the period of study, while others are already bankrupt,” she said.
One of the cancelled concessions belongs to Vision Highland Co Ltd, a South Korean company whose presence in O’Reang district’s Dak Dam commune has caused tension with local ethnic Banong villagers. The villagers have accused the firm of clearing forests that included Banong spiritual sites and cemeteries without any consultation with local communities.
Til Thi, a villager representative in the area, said by telephone on Friday that his community has not yet received official word of the cancellation of Vision Highland’s 1,000-hectare concession, but even that is small consolation for the area indigenous people.
“Although this company has been listed for cancellation, the community is not yet happy, because we are concerned the provincial authority could [take] the land from this firm to reserve for another company,” he said.
Chhay Thi, a provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, said that the provincial authorities must require any new investors seeking land concessions to conduct social and environmental impact assessments and study the background of the land they have been granted.
“Only canceling the company [in name] is not enough,” he said. Although development can often improve the lives of local villagers, Mr Thi added, many companies are not honest about their intentions when seeking land concessions.
“Plenty of companies, after being awarded a land concession, just clear the forest for land and logs. Some are here to destroy natural resources and harm the lives of indigenous villagers only,” he said.
Hundreds of hectares of spiritual forestland, preserves and rotational farmland claimed by minority villagers as their ancestral lands have already been cleared by development firms in Mondolkiri, he added.