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Villagers, gov’t, UDG at table

A man sits next to the charred remains of his house that was allegedly burned to the ground by Chinese company Union Development Group in Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor District
A man sits next to the charred remains of his house that was allegedly burned to the ground by Chinese company Union Development Group in Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor District last year. Heng Chivoan

Villagers, gov’t, UDG at table

An end to the long-running land dispute in Koh Kong province between China’s Union Development Group and more than 1,100 families may have inched closer to a resolution yesterday as all parties discussed an equitable resolution in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Though participants still didn’t see eye-to-eye at the close of yesterday’s meeting, the event still represented a rare direct negotiation between villagers, the company and authorities.

Representatives of more than 300 families embroiled in the sometimes-violent dispute in Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts implored government and company officials to apply the so-called “tiger skin policy”, which would allow them to keep their land while the company would have to build around them.

“Please, we are asking the government to help us cut our land [from the concession] . . . and we ask the company to please stop clearing the land and intimidating the people since we are the victims, and we hurt when our houses are destroyed,” said Ty Brathna, a representative of villagers in Prek Ksach, Kiri Sakor district.

UDG’s 36,000-hectare, multi-billion-dollar development in Koh Kong, where it also has a 9,100-hectare concession for a hydropower dam, will affect an estimated 1,144 families. Many have already been forced from the land or accepted relocation packages, whereas an estimated 371 families continue to protest their forced displacement.

Bun Sarin, a representative of Ta Noun commune, Botum Sakor district, said proper compensation had not been offered by the company, and resettlement sites did not come with the promised infrastructure.

“Infrastructure, such as a toilets and health centres, has not been built yet and the soil is not good,” he said.

The villagers at yesterday’s meeting in the capital also cited the impact the project was having on education and religious practice, and asked the company to withdraw a complaint filed to the provincial court in February requiring the communities to vacate the land within 60 days.

In early March the Koh Kong Provincial Court ordered the families to leave.

Wang Chao, a company representative at the meeting, said the project was authorised by the government, but added that he hoped a peaceful end to the conflict could be found.

“Let all stakeholders raise all the issues and consult with each other. We will report back to the company and discuss with lawyers and the government to reach a settlement.”

Pon Saroeun, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said he would raise the villagers’ requests with Environment Minister Say Sam Al. “Only the government head [Hun Sen] has the right to decide” the outcome , he said.

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