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Koh Kong families call on firm to resolve decades-old row

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Villagers embroiled in a land dispute with UDG in Koh Kong work on a boat that a family had been using for shelter after the firm allegedly burned down their house in 2014. Heng Chivoan

Koh Kong families call on firm to resolve decades-old row

Three families that have held out for fair compensation from a Chinese-owned company in a decade-old land dispute in Koh Kong province urged the firm on Sunday to provide a speedy solution.

The three families – the last holdouts after hundreds of others have moved out – said Union Development Group (UDG) had built fences around their properties in Kiri Sakor district’s Koh Sdach commune, blocking their access, in an attempt to force them to give in and accept an unfair deal.

Phon Sophea, who is among the three families, said since early last year UDG had cleared the holdouts’ houses and farms and even threatened them with murder and imprisonment.

“The three families’ land is nearly three hectares combined. We’ve been living and farming on the land since 1999. The company started its investment in 2008. Since 2017, it had built fences around our houses and would not let us get in or out,” Sophea said.

Uk Savon, another villager, said the families had protested many times but to no avail. He claimed the authorities merely promised to seek a solution but provided no timeframe to achieve it.

“After many protests, the company promised to find plots of land elsewhere in exchange for ours. We don’t know where the proposed land is but we’ll only accept land adjacent or with easy access to national or major roads that enable us to make a living.

“Each family requests only half a hectare of land. As for financial compensation, we haven’t decided yet,” he said.

Lim Kim Sor, an environmental activist from NGO Mother Nature, claimed that before UDG’s investment, the area was home to more than one thousand families.

She claimed that most of them had accepted meagre compensation and left after UDG threatened forceful eviction, with only three families remaining.

The three families, she claimed, had faced various threats, and that UDG had deployed armed forces, including security guards and police, and even the courts to force them out without proper compensation.

“I’m curious about the purpose of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s regime in providing business licences to Chinese companies.

“I’m wondering whether it’s just an illegitimate [investment scheme] of powerful government officials and Chinese companies that are colluding to grab people’s land,” she alleged.

Kiri Sakor district governor Khim Chandy and UDG could not be reached for comments on Sunday.

UDG received a 99-year economic land concession of 36,000ha on May 9, 2008, to develop a modern satellite city in the province.

The company and the provincial authority are said to have promised to provide residential land of 50 by 100 metres and a house of six by seven metres as well as 2ha of agricultural land about 20km away for each family in exchange for their land.

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