New Assembly To Be Hewn From Sacred Forest

Forestry NGO Global Witness strongly criticized the donor community on Thursday for pushing forward a draft subdecree that the organization says will give an international seal of approval to the controversial practice of granting vast land concessions to private firms.

The decree aims to regulate the way concessions are granted, encourage investment in concessions and increase rural employment, according to a copy ob­tained Thurs­day.

But Mike Davis of Global Wit­ness denounced the concession system as “a scam,” enabling illegal logging and land grabbing, which the subdecree will likely legitimize, he said. “We’re very disappointed to find this thing’s been produced with donor funded technical assistance,” he said.

He said the subdecree has been funded by the Asian Develop­ment Bank and is supported by the World Bank. “Are the donors delivering for Cambodia’s rural poor…or are they just acquiescing in the looting of the country?” Davis asked.

Global Witness criticized the sub­decree for calling for public consultation about the granting of concessions but not stating wheth­er the person granted the concession is required to pay attention to the views expressed. The subdecree also provides no punishments for concession holders who breach the law, the NGO said.

Mike Bird, Oxfam Great Brit­ain country program manager, voiced concern that the subdecree doesn’t apply to plantations that “cover very large parts of the country.”

“We’d like to understand why,” he said.

But Volker Muller, GTZ team leader, said it should discourage land grabbing. “We’ll only stop land grabbing if we follow the rule of law,” he said. “It won’t stop everyone, but hopefully it will stop a sensible proportion of people.”

Nisha Agrawal, World Bank country manager, said Thursday that she did not follow land issues.

The ADB did not respond to e-mailed queries on Thursday.

Chea Sophara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Manage­ment, said he supported the sub-de­cree, adding that in coming weeks it will likely be sent to the Council of Ministers for approval.


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