Representatives from five communes in Koh Kong province engaged in a long-running land dispute with a private Chinese firm urged the government to issue them proper land titles during a press conference in the capital yesterday.
Representative Chhai Beng Hout asked the government to instruct the company – Union Development Group Co, Ltd – to allow residents to remain on their land. The area could easily be carved out of the company’s 45,000-hectare land concession, he said.
In 2008, Union Development Group received a 36,000 hectare land grant from the government to build a US$5 billion mega-tourism zone in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts. Such a concession breaches Cambodian land law, which limits government land concessions to private companies to 10,000 hectares.
The total number of land concessions offered by the government to private agro-industrial firms hit 1.19 million hectares, or 13.5 percent of Cambodia’s total land mass, a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday.
The government figure undermines figures released late last year by rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, which said the actual number of hectares given to firms is nearly twice as much.
Ith Nody, undersecretary of state at the ministry, announced the figure during a speech at the Ministry of Land Management’s annual meeting and said that concessions have been granted to 118 agro-industry firms across 17 provinces. He also said that the number would have been higher, but that an additional 51 firms that were granted a total of 479,000 hectares in concessions have since had their land reclaimed due to a failure to comply with their contracts. …
Nine companies have put in bids for the rights to dredge the lengths of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and sell the sand for export, Water Resources Ministry officials said yesterday, noting that the dredging would be beneficial in terms of deepening the waterways.
According to a copy of a letter obtained yesterday, Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen in December detailing plans to ‘restore’ the rivers by allowing three companies to undertake vast dredging projects.
…. Among the requirements is the stipulation that the companies have $2 million deposited in a local bank as collateral in case improper dredging results in “severe impact on river environment, water quality, bank collapse,” the letter states. …
Despite the hype surrounding the advent of fourth-generation mobile services, the bulk of growth and profits in Cambodian telecom remains in 3G networks, experts say.
A recent study by London-based research firm Ovum notes that emerging markets such as Cambodia will see rapid growth in 3G this year as providers become more reliant on 3G revenues.
“Mobile broadband growth will be the biggest opportunity for emerging market operators in 2012 . . . operators across all emerging markets will experience strong data connection and revenue growth in 2012 as users look to gain access to data services, the internet and mobile content and applications,” the report says.
The resulting gains in revenue will also become a more important measure of overall growth this year, Ovum says, moving Cambodian operators away from what have been much-disputed subscriber numbers.
The number of Cambodian mobile subscribers surpassed the country’s total population of about 14.5 million in November, according to data obtained earlier this month by the Post. Insiders, however, estimate the number at between six and seven million. …
While the report indicated that Cambodia was at low risk for severe debt problems, it highlighted the need for effective management of new debt and rapidly growing build-operate-transfer, or BOT, projects, which include the hydropower dams and road reconstruction conducted by Chinese companies.
This month alone, the Kingdom courted more than US$800 million in Chinese loans for infrastructure projects. In two different speeches in February, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia would borrow $302 million from China for roads and irrigation systems, and would apply for an additional $500 million for similar construction.
The joint report estimated Cambodia’s debt to countries at about 28 per cent of gross domestic product for both 2011 and 2012. …
Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday extended indefinitely a ban on commercial fishing in Tonle Sap lake, citing ongoing illegal fishing to the detriment of local villagers.
The premier had first imposed the ban on 35 fishing lots in the lake in August, as a result of what he said was their widespread destruction of fish resources, the Post reported at the time.
Despite government restrictions, Hun Sen claimed that illegal fishers continued to burden surrounding communities, often harassing villagers and using equipment that threatened the sustainability of the area.
As a result, the ban would be extended in order to return the Tonle Sap fishing grounds to those local villagers and to encourage conservation, he said. …
Representatives of more than 300 families in Battambang province’s Bavel district yesterday urged government officials to intervene in a land dispute with provincial authorities and a businessman.
Representative Thuy Ry said the 305 families had lived on the 3,638 hectares of land in Ampil Pram Doeum commune since 1999 and that businessman Chea Ny had violently and forcefully stolen land from families in 2005 and 2009.
Last September, provincial authorities had taken additional land from residents.
Authorities said the land was to be used as a social land concession for veterans and their families, but villagers are accusing them of corruptly collaborating with Chea Ny to profit from selling the area.
“We would like the Battambang authorities to give back the land they confiscated from the people,” Thuy Ry said. …
The government needed better mechanisms to adapt to the effects of climate change, which could result in droughts and floods that cause deaths, destroy rice paddies and place an undue burden on the budget, a senior official said yesterday.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth told a workshop on climate change in Phnom Penh that previous floods and droughts in Cambodia could have been partly the result of climate change. He said that between 1987 and 2007, there had been 12 floods in which 1,100 people died and the overall cost of recovery was US$327 million, while drought over the same period had affected 6.5 million people and cost $138 million.
“Climate change is an obstacle to social and economic development, so we need to reach an emergency solution,” Mok Mareth said, adding that less-developed countries hoped to be supported in such efforts by a global fund discussed at the 17th Conference of the Parties in South Africa last year.
Mok Mareth said flooding last year had affected 1.5 million people and caused 250 deaths, and the recovery had so far cost $520 million.
The Sam Rainsy Party has asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to verify the details of a proposed dam that could inundate about 10,000 hectares of protected forest, citing concerns that it would lead to rampant illegal logging and devastate a traditional habitat of Siamese crocodiles.
The proposed 109-megawatt dam would inundate about 20,000 hectares of land overall in Koh Kong province’s Cheay Areng valley, according to conservation groups, although an environmental impact assessment of the dam commissioned by the company suggested only 9,474 hectares would be flooded.
The Thai Ambassador in Phnom Penh has suggested that Cambodia form a special delegation to tackle the common – and often deadly – practice of illegal logging along the two countries’ shared border, the ambassador said yesterday.
Already this year, 11 Cambodians have reportedly been shot dead by Thai troops while in search of lucrative rosewood trees inside Thailand. Fifteen Cambodians were killed under similar circumstances in all of 2011.
Ambassador Sompong Sanguanbun said he made the suggestion at a meeting with Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo yesterday morning. …
Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that he would permanentlycance all 35 fishing lots on the Tonle Sap lake – which had already been suspended in recent months – and turn them into a conservation zone to protect the lake’s pressurized wild fisheries, on which tens of thousands of subsistence fishermen rely.
“I need to send a message to people: In the whole Tonle Sap [lake], there are no longer any fishing lots,” Mr. Hun Sen said, while speaking to students at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. “After we cancel these fishing lots, the government will determine the area as conservation [zone].”
He said that he had ordered Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin to soon draw up a sub-decree to officially establish the lots as conservation areas. “We keep it for fish breeding he said, adding that next year he would cancel private lots on the Mekong River in Kompong Cham and Prey Veng provinces. …
More than 60 Cambodian and international human rights groups and trade unions yesterday called on Cambodia and Malaysia to reach a bilateral agreement that would guarantee strong labor rights and working conditions for Cambodian maids employed in Malaysia.
“The time is ripe for the Cambodian and Malaysian governments to take measures to ensure the rights of domestic workers, including a decent minimum wage, and define the rights and responsibilities of domestic workers, employers and recruitment agencies,” the Cambodian Working Group for Domestic Workers said in a statement, which was endorsed by 20 Cambodian NGOs and 45 groups from Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries.
The groups want both governments to reach an agreement that would protect the rights of Cambodian maids in accordance with the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Convention Concerning Decent work for Domestic Workers, which was adopted last year. …
Koh Kong villagers facing the loss of their land to a Chinese mega-tourism project held a news conference in Phnom Penh yesterday to appeal to the government for the right to remain on their property.
Kith Ten, 54, from Kiri Sakor district’s Prek Khsach commune, one of 13 village representatives speaking at the conference at NGO Forum’s headquarters, said that workers from Chinese firm Union Development Group (UDG) had threatened villagers and forced them to accept compensation to move off their land. …
Since 2008, a project has been under way to turn part of Koh Kong’s once-pristine coastline into a $3.8 billion tourism zone, complete with hotels, golf courses and an airport. The government has given UDG permission to clear 36,000 hectares, or about a quarter, of Botum Sakor National Park for their extensive plans. …
About 400 indigenous Lao villagers prayed and sacrificed chickens to a powerful local spirit yesterday in Stung Treng province, seeking supernatural help in halting the planned construction of the Lower Sesan 2 Dam, villagers and commune officials said yesterday.
The hydropower projects, funded by Vietnam Electricity, will flood tens of thousands of hectares of forest and farmland, and displace 5,000 mostly indigenous minority villagers in Sesan district.
Although plans for the dam have been in the works since 2008, villagers have never been officially informed about resettlement plans or when construction is scheduled to start, although they were told in May that they would be evicted. … With these worries in mind, villagers from three affected communes – Srekor, Kbal Romeas and Phluk – came together yesterday with more than 50 other villagers who boated in from Ratanakiri province to pray before the local spirit, Neak Ta Krahorm Kar, which roughly translates as “spirit with the red neck.”
The Kratie Provincial Court yesterday charged a truck driver with illegally collecting and transporting luxury wood after forestry officers last week confiscated 148 pieces of luxury wood totalling 31.2 cubic meters from his truck, which had been transporting the timber along National Road 7 in Sambor district’s Damrei commune, a local official said.
“The truck driver, Sok Borey, 20, confessed that the luxury wood was being transported from Ratanakiri,” Mey Vuthy, chief of administration in O’Krieng commune, adding that officials are investigating the haul’s owner.
Mr. Vuthy said the arrest and subsequent charges were a part of a crackdown on the illegal timber trade, which environmental and rights groups say has grown rampant in recent months. …
Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday blamed illegal immigration for contributing to a current shortage in the Cambodian labor market but said workers could benefit from rising wages as a result of the demand for workers.
Mr. Hun Sen said the shortage was hitting the agriculture sector hardest, but also highlighted the impact on the garment sector.
“Now, Cambodia is in the situation of a lack of labor while some people migrate illegally,” he said during a graduation ceremony at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
“Factories are facing a challenge caused by lack of labor, and this challenge will improve work and salary because if you want workers and good technicians, you give more salary,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said yesterday that Cambodia currently produces only half as many vegetables as it needs to meet demand and that more needs to be done to remedy the situation.
“Cambodia only produces 40 to 60 perent of its needs and imports, the rest from Vietnam and Thailand,” Mr. Sarun said during the opening of a two-day forum on how to strengthen the vegetable industry. “Just in Phnom Penh, we need 1000 tons of vegetables each day, but we can only produce 400 tons.”
Australian Ambassador Penny Richards said at the conference that the embassy this year expanded its vegetable cultivation training program to help meet national demand. On top of Takeo, Kandal and Kompong Thom provinces, activities have been extended to 12 additional provinces throughout the country.
Beer promoters in Phnom Penh claimed Monday that they are being discriminated against for staging a month-long strike last summer, and their livelihoods are under threat.
In July and August, hundreds of promoters for Cambrew Ltd – which produces and distributes Angkor beer – went on strike after the company refused to pay 34 female promoters overtime, despite a ruling by the Arbitration Council in favour of the workers.
More than six months after the dispute was resolved, with the company agreeing to pay the overtime, the company is trying to “isolate and punish” members of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, which started the strike, the union’s president, Sar Mora, claimed on Monday. …
Despite an economic forecast of 6.5 percent growth for Cambodia this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in a report released Monday that the government must continue to develop infrastructure, increase public revenues and practice fiscal safeguarding in order to sustain growth in the future.
Among the recommendations made in the IMF’s second annual Article IV report the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) should stop issuing new bank licenses in an oversaturated sector that already has 32 operational commercial banks and six specialized banks.
“A moratorium on bank licenses would provide a critical window to build adequate supervisory capacity and improve the balance between the degree of competition and health of banks,” the report states.
The report also says that the NBC should increase the reserve requirement of banks, currently set at 12 percent for foreign currency reserves, in order to safeguard against inflation. …
More than 500 ethnic minority residents of riparian communities in northeastern Cambodia held a peaceful protest Tuesday against the construction of a Vietnamese-led hydroelectric dam that will relocate them from their ancestral land.
The villagers, who live along the Se San River in Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces, marched on foot and led a boat procession to the Lower Se San 2 Hydroelectric Dam construction site, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) upstream from Stung Treng city—the provincial capital.
They donned red cloth around their waists and foreheads to honor local spirits and held prayers to protect the river ecology from the U.S. $816 million dam project, which is being led by Electricity of Vietnam.