More than two-thirds of the 158 land disputes triggered by large-scale plantations over the past two decades have yet to be fully resolved, according to a new report by the NGO Forum on Cambodia.
Drawing largely on incomplete government records, the umbrella group’s Statistical Analysis of Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) in Cambodia, released Tuesday, states that the government has since 1995 approved 267 concessions covering 1.53 million hectares, well short of the roughly 2 million hectares claimed by officials.
Of the 267 concessions, the report says, 158 have led to land disputes with local residents, affecting 35,604 households across the country. It says that only 42 of the ELCs have since settled their disputes with locals, leaving 104 fully or partially unresolved. The NGO Forum was unable to determine the status of the remaining 12.
The government claims that ELCs have helped pull rural communities out of poverty by bringing them well-paid plantation jobs. But independent studies suggest the concessions have failed to make host communities better off—and often lowered their standard of living by grabbing farmland and clearing forests. Rights groups blame them for forced evictions and rampant deforestation.
NGO Forum director Tek Vannara said the 42 ELC-related land disputes settled to date were a sign of progress.
“Resolving 42 of them is progress, and we hope the government will make an effort to resolve the rest of them by the end of 2016,” he said.
Spokesmen for the Ministry of Agriculture, which has granted the vast majority of ELCs, could not be reached for comment.
Sy Ramony, a deputy director of the nature conservation and protection department at the Ministry of Environment, which granted most of the rest, disputed the NGO’s findings at a launch event for the report in Phnom Penh.
“This report has a lot of holes,” he said. “I don’t know how to fix it since it has already been launched, but some of the figures and some of the information have holes.”
Mr. Ramony did not explain what those “holes” were.