Following a seven-hour stand-off between villagers who blocked National Road No 48 in Koh Kong province yesterday and military police who threatened to drive their trucks over them, Kiri Sakor district governor Chheng Chhe promised to resign from his position if he was unable to resolve the land dispute that sparked the protest by February 1.
“If I cannot find the resolution and provide two hectares of land [to each family facing relocation] by February 2012, I will resign from my job,” he said yesterday.
The promise was made after about 200 villagers from two communes in two districts blocked the road at 6am to force authorities to resolve their dispute with a Chinese company that was given a 36,000 hectare economic land concession to develop a US$3.6 billion tourist project.
Union Development Group, which has an office in Phnom Penh, could not be reached for comment.
The villagers from Koh Sdach commune in Kiri Sakor district and Tham Sar commune in Botum Sakor district crowded together on the road when police attempted to drive their trucks through, following the failure of negotiations with the deputy governor of Kiri Sakor district. They had demanded an exact date for a resolution of the dispute.
Traffic had backed up for two kilometres on the road, and villagers threatened to set vehicles on fire if they tried to break through.
Prum San, 51, said the protesters felt they had no option after waiting more than a year for a resolution. “If the governor does not resolve the dispute by February, we will block the road again,” he said.
Sim Navy, 46, urged those who were inconvenienced to understand their desperation. “We are losing our homes and land forever,” she said. “Khmer people should help other Khmer people,” she said, adding that local authorities were threatening the villagers rather than helping them.
Luy Touch, 45, said they had hoped they would benefit from the development project, but the opposite had happened. “I am not afraid to die. I will fight back if police use violence, because they have abandoned us and treated us like animals. The only time they support us is when they want our votes in an election,” Luy Touch said.
Deputy provincial governor Oun Chhaly said he promised to immediately report their concerns to the government, but added that he could not promise results.
The concession was granted in 2008, and 1,143 families have been ordered to relocate. They say they were promised new houses, two hectares of land and land titles, but those who moved to the relocation site say they have small plots and no titles. Military police are also blocking access to villages where families have refused to move.