HUNDREDS of villagers from Koh Kong province say they will gather at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh today to protest against a Chinese company they say has cheated them out of land to make way for a US$3.8 billion seaside resort project.
Locals say China’s state-owned Union Development Group, which is developing the 36,000-hectare coastal tourist zone, has reneged on promises to provide compensation for more than 1,000 families affected by the project in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts.
Keo Khorn, a village representative, said that during negotiations with provincial authorities and company representatives in January, villagers were told they would receive compensation of $8,000 per hectare. But he said they are now being offered only $300 per hectare and told that if they do not accept, they will receive nothing. Most villagers, he added, have refused to accept the lower offer.
Villager Che Hean said that on April 29, the provincial governor showed villagers a letter signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen that cancelled their land titles and said their land had been awarded to Union Development Group.
“The letter cancelled the villagers’ land titles and ... set a one-month deadline for villagers to move off the land,” he said. “The deadline has nearly been reached, so the villagers are worried we will lose our land. That is why we will go to ask for the prime minister’s help.”
Though most villagers have 20 to 30 hectares of land, the authorities are also only offering to provide 5 hectares’ worth of compensation to each family, he added.
The concession, which was approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) in 2008, also appears to be in violation of Article 59 of the Land Law, which limits concessions to 10,000 hectares.
“I am not surprised,” said Ou Virak, president of Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “There are a lot of Chinese and Vietnamese companies which receive more than the legal limit.”
Kiri Sakor district Governor Chheng Chhe said villagers had travelled to Phnom Penh to protest because they suspected district officials had colluded with the company to cheat them. “If we had known this before, we would not have allowed them to go to Phnom Penh,” he said.
He said that about 100 families have agreed to relocate so far. “We will provide each family with 2 hectares of farmland and a 50-metre-by-100-metre plot on which they can construct a home,” he said.
Ouch Leng, land programme officer for rights group Adhoc, said the government should intervene in land disputes pitting property developers against villagers in order to find an “acceptable resolution”.
“The government thinks too much about money, they do not care about the law,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY WILL BAXTER