Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Tycoon’s Son Receives 6,234 Hectares in Botum Sakor National Park

Part of Botum Sakor National Park cleared by the Chinese firm Union Development Group and Royal Group in a Facebook post from the activist group Mother Nature Cambodia on July 19, 2023. (Mother Nature Cambodia Facebook)
Part of Botum Sakor National Park cleared by the Chinese firm Union Development Group and Royal Group in a Facebook post from the activist group Mother Nature Cambodia on July 19, 2023. (Mother Nature Cambodia Facebook)

A company linked to the son of tycoon Ly Yong Phat received a 6,234 hectare concession inside Botum Sakor National Park, according to a January sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and published on Wednesday.

Koh Kong Rubber Plantation Co. Ltd., which lists Ly’s son Ly Phoonrat as a director, was awarded a concession for development inside the 182,342 hectare protected area. The land had previously been under the management of the Environment Ministry.

Human Rights NGO Licadho’s Outreach director Naly Pilorge expressed concern that a  major agricultural concession had been granted inside a forested area despite a 2012 moratorium on new Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). 

ELCs provide long-term leases for large-scale industrial agricultural development but have been criticized for spurring deforestation and human rights abuses such as mass evictions

In January, reports revealed that the government had last year granted a 5,000 hectare concession in Stung Treng province linked to a notorious logging baron, the first known ELC approved after the ban went into effect. More than 200 ELCs covering over two million hectares of land have been granted since the 1990s, until the Prime Minister halted further ELCs. 

“While this latest concession [in Botum Sakor] isn’t called an ELC, it has all the characteristics of one,” Pilorge said. “We urge the government to respect the letter and spirit of the ELC moratorium and to stop issuing these concessions, in order to avoid another wave of land dispossession and destruction of the country’s remaining forests.”

Botum Sakor, located in Koh Kong province, is the country’s largest national park. But more than half of the park was sold off to private developers between 1998 and 2017, mostly to investors with ties to the ruling CPP. As of July 2023, just 18% of the park remains protected, Mongabay reported.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan declined to comment on whether the ELC moratorium remained in effect. He urged CamboJA to contact the Agriculture Ministry and Environment Ministry for “detailed information.”

Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra declined to comment, saying that he was in a meeting. He received but did not respond to Telegram messages and follow-up phone calls.

Im Rachana, a spokesperson for the Agriculture Ministry, which manages ELCs, declined to comment on whether the government’s moratorium on ELCs had ended. She also referred further questions to the Environment Ministry.

Reached by phone, Koh Kong Provincial Governor Mithona Phouthorng said he could not comment on whether the concession had completed mandated social and environmental assessments.

“I do not know yet. I will check it,” Phouthorng said.

Ly Phoonrat could not be reached for comment and his company did not respond to messages sent to an email linked to the company. A woman named Chan Dalish, whose phone number appeared on the Commerce Ministry records for Koh Kong Rubber Plantation, said she no longer works for this company.

Ly Yong Phat, who has been linked to numerous human rights abuses, did not respond to questions sent via Telegram.

Major conglomerates such as tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and Chinese firm Union Development Group (UDG) have also carved out large sections of the national park. UDG was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2019 for using violence against local communities while clearing forest.

An advocacy officer at the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) Mala San expressed regret for another concession inside the park, saying he wished the government invested in providing economic opportunities for local communities linked to conserving rather than consuming natural resources.

Mother Nature Cambodia on Thursday shared photos via Facebook of cleared landscapes inside the park, stating: “We urged the government to stop conceding national park to private sectors.”