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‘In cahoots’ with UDG

A man takes shelter under a makeshift hut next to the burned remains of his house
A man takes shelter under a makeshift hut next to the burned remains of his house last year after it was allegedly razed to the ground by Union Development Group in Koh Kong province. Heng Chivoan

‘In cahoots’ with UDG

An investigation by a local rights group has revealed widespread allegations of corruption and impunity in the allocation of compensation to villagers affected by the huge Union Development Group (UDG) concession in Koh Kong province.

The report by the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), obtained yesterday, details allegations uncovered during the three-month probe, including pay-offs to officials and threats of reduced compensation for those taking part in protests against the Chinese-owned developer.

“[The Chinese company] has not only failed to make the people’s lives progress, but has in fact completely destroyed their livelihoods,” the report reads. “The company has forced them into unemployment.”

The publication of the report, which is the result of three months of interviews with local residents and officials, as well as a number of documents related to the resettlement scheme, comes a day after Minister of Environment Say Sam Al appeared before parliament’s Human Rights Commission to answer questions on allegations of corruption at the UDG site.

The 97-page HRTF report alleges that the government working group tasked with overseeing the allocation of resettlement compensation has been plagued by corruption, and its members have taken bribes to process compensation payouts far below the original offers to which villagers agreed.

“If anyone dared to protest once, they had $200 deducted automatically [from their compensation],” the report alleged.

“The company promised to provide rice to the villagers for three years, but they only received it for three months.

“The authority collected payments of between $100 and $300 from the original land owners for processing documentation and certificates.”

Several officials are named in the report as being involved in the alleged graft.

Pheuy Ke, Koh Sdach commune chief, is alleged to have received, before other villagers were offered compensation, a $100,000 payment, two plots of land and a house at a resettlement site, in the hope that other villagers would accept relocation.

Ke yesterday denied he had received anywhere near that amount of money, saying he had only been given $20,000 for five hectares of land. He said he owned four houses, but claimed they had been purchased from villagers. “I got the same compensation as other villagers,” he said.

Other officials named in the report included Cambodian People’s Party Senator Kok An’s brother, Kok Hav; former Kiri Sakor district hall official Ly Ty; former Kiri Sakor district agriculture department officer Khat Vanna; commune councillor Long Sophal; and Chheng Che, the former governor of Kiri Sakor district.

Attempts to reach the other officials named in the report were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the HRTF report alleges, documents obtained during the investigation suggest that some villagers received as little as $200, while others with considerable land holdings prior to UDG’s arrival in 2008 were paid up to $8,000 to relocate.

Ouch Leng, HRTF’s director, said yesterday that the company continues to make promises it does not intend to keep to the 318 families who have yet to accept resettlement.

“We have found that the working group, from the local to the national level, is systematically corrupt and working in cahoots with the company, as well as using police and soldiers to threaten people, burn people’s houses, and force them to move when they do not want to,” he said.

Two representatives of UDG in Cambodia could not be reached yesterday and an emailed request for comment went unanswered.

However, on Tuesday, Environment Minister Sam Al told the National Assembly’s Human Rights Commission that he would seek to resolve the ongoing dispute.

“We will avoid irregularities because we want a transparent and just settlement for all stakeholders,” he said.

In February 2014, the Council of Ministers ordered UDG to stop dismantling villagers’ houses and clearing the land of those who had not been compensated.

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