IFC investigates over ‘land-grabbing link’

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Phnom Penh Post | 23 April 2014

IFC investigates over ‘land-grabbing link’
Villagers walk through recently cleared forest inside a HAGL rubber plantation in 2013.

by Amelia Woodside

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has launched an internal investigation into a complaint lodged against the institution for investing in a Vietnamese rubber firm accused of illegal logging and land grabbing in Ratanakkiri, an NGO and villager said yesterday.

Earlier this month, representatives of the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) met with leaders from 17 indigenous communities in Andong Meas and O’Chum districts, along with representatives of Vietnam-based Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), which operates rubber plantations on economic land concessions in the Kingdom’s northeast, according to Eang Vuthy, executive director at NGO Equitable Cambodia.

“This was a preliminary visit . . . the IFC met with community leaders [and] government officials at the company.

We’re very hopeful a resolution between the parties will be reached. They say the company HAGL is willing to negotiate, so we’re hoping for a positive course of action once the IFC releases their report,” Vuthy told the Post yesterday.

Sal Hnuey, 59, a community spokesman for villagers living in Andong Meas, confirmed yesterday that a team of international experts started visiting the affected areas in late March.

On February 10, villagers lodged a complaint with the CAO, the internal watchdog of the IFC, which is the World Bank’s private lending arm.

The company’s allotted assessment period is limited to 120 working days following the submission of the complaint, “but may be completed more quickly”, CAO’s operation guidelines say.

The IFC is accused of supporting HAGL’s actions by investing millions of dollars through an intermediary fund called Dragon Capital Group since 2002.

Last year, HAGL came under fire after UK-based NGO Global Witness published a report accusing the rubber giant of illegally logging outside concession areas and being in possession of at least 47,000 hectares of economic land concessions – almost five times the legal limit.

The IFC did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

A representative who identified himself as an employee of HAGL declined to comment yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY
Original source: Phnom Penh Post
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