Minister of Environment Say Sam Al has pledged to resolve the long-running and at-times violent land dispute between China’s Union Development Group and villagers in Koh Kong province.
The minister’s remarks came during a questioning session at the National Assembly, where he was called to appear before the parliament’s Human Rights Commission.
Eng Chhay Eang, chairman of the commission, had summoned the minister to answer questions from lawmakers over intimidation of villagers and threats of forced eviction made by Union Development Group (UDG) security forces in recent months.
After a more than three-hour closed-door meeting, Chhay Eang said after listening to the minister’s comments on the dispute resolution process, that commission members had asked him if it was possible to allow the 318 families
to continue to live on their land; to stop violence and threats against villagers; investigate allegations of corruption in the project; and to request documentation on the resettlement scheme.
Chhay Eang went on to urge UDG to refrain from using violence or forced evictions against villagers.
“Do not coerce, threaten or use judicial measures against the 318 families. Try to find a peaceful solution,” he said.
Sam Al said in response that the Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor district communities were not subject to an official policy of coercion and intimidation.
He added that allegations of corruption in the past had been isolated cases and not a symptom of systematic graft.
“We will avoid irregularities because we want a transparent and just settlement for all stakeholders,” he said.
Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum, said that a “progressive mechanism” should be reached that might include the government setting aside the villagers’ land and cutting it from UDG’s 36,000-hectare resort concession.
A clear plan for resettlement and standard payments should also be made public, he added.
In 2008, the government issued the huge concession to UDG to develop a multi-billion dollar eco-resort and commercial hub. More than 1,100 families were affected by the project, and while many have since accepted offers of compensation, more than 300 families continue to resist relocation.
UDG officials could not be reached yesterday.
On several occasions this year, armed security guards employed by UDG have harassed villagers and have in the past even gone so far as to bulldoze and burn down their homes.