Fourteen families in Koh Kong province’s Kiri Sakor district filed a court complaint today against 60 security guards employed by Union Development Group (UDG) for allegedly destroying their crops and small huts on land belonging to the development conglomerate.
The families say they found the empty land in 2015, and planted crops there until they were notified last month that it belonged to UDG.
A few days later, on January 11, 60 security guards allegedly burned their crops and some huts standing on the land.
One of the complainants, 65-year-old Yorng Khun, said the complaint singled out Kem Leng, 36, as the leader of the guards, and demanded more than $20,000 per family for destroying 40 hectares of crops and burning nine small structures.
“If they said that the land belonged to them, we will give it to them, but we file complaint to demand for compensation for destruction of our crops,” he said.
Khun admitted that the group did not have any documents proving they owned the 40 hectares, but said that local authorities had not informed them of its actual ownership.
Uon Sovantheary, spokesman of the Koh Kong Provincial Court, only confirmed that the complaint had been received and that it would be reviewed according to court procedures.
A representative for UDG could not be reached today. The development group has been embroiled in land disputes with hundreds of villagers in Koh Kong, where it was given a 45,000-hectare land concession in 2008 to develop a Chinese-funded resort.
Khim Chandy, district governor of Kiri Sakor, said he had not received any reports of the destruction of crops or the villagers’ complaints.
Licadho provincial coordinator In Kongchit said the company could have allowed the families to clear their crops, and it was unlikely the villagers would win a court complaint against such a sizable foreign firm.
“The court will protect foreign investors rather than protecting Cambodians’ interests under the pretext that the victims did not have documents or lack this or that,” he said.