New Figures on Canceled Land Concessions Still Short on Detail

The Agriculture Ministry has shared new figures on how much land it has reappropriated from some of the wayward landlords of Cambodia’s large-scale plantations, but the numbers still do not add up to the 1 million hectares claimed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In late February, Mr. Hun Sen announced the end of a yearlong review of the country’s economic land concessions (ELCs), most of them rubber and sugar plantations that have been blamed for both rapid deforestation and mass forced evictions across the country. The prime minister said the government had taken back a total of 1 million hectares from the companies—nearly half the 2.1 million hectares marked as ELCs when the review began—and would dole them out to poor families with little or no land of their own.

The government has yet to provide a full account of where the 1 million hectares has come from but came a step closer last week. On Thursday, outgoing Agriculture Minister Ouk Rabun, who was recently rebuked by Mr. Hun Sen for working “very slow,” used his farewell speech to note that 23 of the 173 ELCs under the ministry’s jurisdiction have had their contracts with the government canceled.

Contacted afterward, ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth said those 23 concessions added up to about 320,000 hectares. He said another 33 concessions had their holdings reduced by a total of 279,000 hectares.

Mr. Sophalleth refused to provide the names of any of the companies, however, because they were still in the process of settling land disputes with local communities.

“We don’t want any speculation that can cause problems while we are working on it,” he said.

And though the secrecy makes it impossible to verify the government’s claim of how much land it has reappropriated, Mr. Sophalleth said the ministry needed time.

“Whether it’s transparent or not transparent we cannot say until the work is done,” he said.

If the numbers are right, the 599,000 hectares taken back by the Agriculture Ministry combined with the roughly 127,000 hectares the Environment Ministry says it has reappropriated from the ELCs it manages still only total 726,000 hectares, far short of Mr. Hun Sen’s claim.

With the lack of details, some NGOs say the government could be inflating its figures by including logging concessions that were canceled more than a decade ago.

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