Minister Claims Land Disputes Over: ‘We Have Solved Them All’

Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Wednesday repeated his claims that forest crimes and land disputes sparked by sprawling commercial farms run by wealthy businessmen and foreign corporations had decreased or were mostly over, claims that rights groups dispute.

Speaking with reporters after a closed-door meeting requested by the opposition CNRP with the National Assembly’s environment commission, Mr. Sam Al said he told the lawmakers that most property disputes involving economic land concessions (ELCs) were all but settled.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al takes questions from lawmakers during a meeting at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“After we created the committee to resolve land disputes, we have solved them all,” he said. “There are still some small problems that we are solving now, but in general we have solved them all.”

Asked about the ongoing reports of illegal logging across the country, the minister said the problem had “decreased,” but declined to elaborate.

Mr. Sam Al made similar remarks on World Environment Day in June, when he declared an end to large-scale logging in eastern Cambodia and said land disputes with commercial sugarcane plantations were a thing of the past.

Despite a blanket ban on timber exports to Vietnam imposed in January last year, logs and sawn wood have continued to pour across the border, according to Vietnamese customs data. Just last month, Cambodia Daily reporters found a military border unit in Kratie province facilitating a thriving local timber trade with Vietnam.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al, left, takes questions from lawmakers during a meeting at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Thousands of families also have yet to settle land disputes with their local ELCs, including several sugarcane plantations.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for human rights group Licadho, said on Wednesday that the protesters who were still demanding solutions to their disputes were proof that the problem persisted.

“I think there are many land disputes the government still needs to solve,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “When the people stop protesting about land disputes, the land disputes will have been solved.”

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