Government official Dy Panha received 30.79 hectares of land in northeastern Mondulkiri province cut from forest cover in a September sub-decree released publicly earlier this year and issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen, his relative.
Panha was promoted to serve as a two-star Major General in the police and deputy director of the General Department of Prisons in the Interior Ministry in 2020, according to his Facebook.
Panha also appears to be the son, or at very least closely connected relative, of Dy Chouch, who is the first cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to the NGO Global Witness. Chouch has been involved in leading illegal logging schemes, Global Witness alleged in a 2007 report.
Dy Chouch and his ex-wife Seng Keang have managed logging operations for several forest concessionaires, including Kingwood industry, Cambodia Chernda Plywood and Mieng Ly Heng, Global Witness reported. Chouch has denied allegations of involvement in illegal logging.
Chouch’s company Memot 6666 Arena Co., Ltd, and Panha’s former company Green Lake Co., Ltd, each list the two men as sharing the same home address, according to Commerce Ministry records.
Panha posted a tribute to the death of Dy Bo, a man he described as his grandfather in a March 30 Facebook post.
“May my grandpa rest in peace,” he wrote.
Hun Sen and his son Hun Many each posted their Facebook pages about Dy Bo’s death and identified him as a relative.
“The death of grandfather Dy Bo is a great loss as we pay our gratitude to a father, grandfather, great-grandfather and relative, who is a paragon of virtue to us all,” Hun Sen posted on March 31, 2023.
The well-connected Panha requested Mondulkiri’s provincial governor to appoint officials to inspect the location of land he received in the forests outside of Sen Monorom city. There were no impacts on residents in the area reported there, Mondulkiri Provincial Administrative chief Neang Vannak said.
“After reviewing [his request], the land in the area of Sen Monorom city does not have much forest and local people did not protest because Dy Panha had already bought that land from villagers,” Vannak said.
Vannak added that previously people had cultivated crops there to support their livelihoods.
Heng Kimhong, research and advocacy manager at Cambodia Youth Network, said that the government should consider the development can improve daily people’s livelihoods rather than the development of individual interests.
Amnesty International reported that Cambodia lost nearly 2.5 million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2020.
“We have seen the state is still continuing to cut forest cover for privatizing state land to give to the private sector for development,” he said, adding that forests given to private individuals remains “a threat to the conservation of natural resources and forest cover in Cambodia.”