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UN takes up evictees’ fight

Union Development Group representative Li Tao
Union Development Group representative Li Tao (second right) listens as UN OHCHR country director Wan-Hea Lee expresses her concerns about his company’s project in Koh Kong province yesterday. David Boyle

UN takes up evictees’ fight

After meeting a packed house of infuriated villagers who have been forced off their land by a $3.8 billion satellite city development in Koh Kong province, a UN representative yesterday took those grievances directly to the firm involved.

In a meeting at Chinese company Union Development Group’s palatial new hotel in Kiri Sakor district, Wan-Hea Lee, country director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, implored the firm to immediately stop using military officials to deal with villagers disputing the compensation packages offered.

“At this point, [the displaced villagers] feel quite vulnerable, and should such information come to our office, we will be in touch, and I hope that those kinds of practices can be put to an immediate end,” she said.

Union Development Group has repeatedly been accused of burning down the houses of villagers it is in conflict with and controlling people’s movements using private security guards and members of the armed forces.

Lee also suggested to the firm that many of those who had accepted compensation packages had been coerced into doing so, fearing they would be left with nothing if they did not.

She questioned why the government’s “leopard skin policy” was not implemented in these situations.

The “leopard skin policy” stipulates economic land concessions should be demarcated to exclude areas that are already occupied. But instead, more than 1,000 families have been forced off their land inside Union Development Group’s pair of concessions in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor district, which total more than 45,000 hectares.

They have been offered houses far away from their original residences by the seaside, compensation of $200 to $8,000 per hectare of land lost and between two to five hectares of farming land, which many complain they are yet to receive.

Speaking in Chinese with a translator, Union Development Group representative Li Tao told Lee that disputes over the compensation package had to be resolved by the government, through an inter-ministerial committee, not the company.

“So far over 90 per cent of the relocation issue is already solved. Less than 10 per cent remains,” he said, adding his company had gone beyond their contractual requirements, building roads, schools and markets.

But he largely skirted the subject of the use of military officials to intimidate villagers and block their access to farmland.

In February, the Council of Minister’s issued a notice demanding Union Development Group stop dismantling villagers’ houses and clearing the land of people who had not been compensated.

On Saturday, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi, who missed yesterday’s meetings due to illness, visited villagers affected by the same concession.

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