About 30 villagers embroiled in a land dispute with Union Development Group (UDG) in Koh Kong plan to file a petition asking the provincial governor to intervene after the Chinese company bulldozed crops last week.
Villager Peurng Loun, 45, said two UDG excavators destroyed hundreds of coconuts, mangoes and cashews on her 2.5 hectares of land in Koh Sdach commune in Kiri Sakor district on April 3. Villagers in neighbouring Prek Khsach commune have joined the petition, fearing similar losses.
The company is building a massive $3.8 billion tourism complex along the coast, sparking a series of land disputes.
Ouch Thouch, director of the provincial hall, on Sunday said some villagers had come on Friday with individual documents in hand to seek intervention, though “they did not have a joint petition”. Thouch said he was unaware if any action had already been taken on this case.
Loun said that the company tried to offer her $30,000 and 2 hectares of land elsewhere in November, but she did not accept the deal.
“I never agreed to receive the offer,” she said. “I only visited the new area they wanted to offer us, but I never signed an agreement.”
In the past, Loun demanded $100,000 to leave her village and crops, but now she says she wants to get her land cut out of UDG’s development area so she can stay.
Provincial Governor Mithona Phouthorng said that as of Friday afternoon she had not received the petition, but would find a way to resolve the dispute.
“Villagers at that area, most of them already received compensation,” she said.
Sreng Hong, deputy provincial governor, said that he would look into this case on Monday.
According to provincial officials with rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, UDG representative Chieng Lan, also known as Vireak, on April 3 led 20 personnel armed with batons and guns, as well as two excavators, to destroy crops on the land Loun claims to own, although she has no land title. Lan could not be reached on Friday.
After bulldozing on Tuesday, the company gave villagers three days to negotiate. Seven families living in Koh Sdach commune so far have refused to accept compensation.
Kiri Sakor district authorities confirmed they cleared the property, but did so only on the land of families who had already accepted compensation, which the villagers disputed.
According to Hour In, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, the villagers affected by the crop destruction also intend to file a criminal lawsuit against the development company.
He said that UDG was granted about 45,000 hectares from the government to develop land spanning Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts, affecting thousands of families. While some have relocated, others are fighting against what they characterised as unfair compensation.
“So far, the solution for villagers offered by the government’s inter-ministerial committee, led by the Environment Ministry, is not transparent at all,” In said.
“The negotiations with villagers [has involved] threats [and] intimidation,” he said. “Some families who are relatives to the authorities have received high compensation, some up to $100,000.”