The Minister of Environment has countered a rights worker’s claim that villagers relocated to make way for a Chinese-backed mega-tourism project in Koh Kong province lack proper access to medical care.
About 1,100 families have been forcibly evicted from their coastal villages in Botum Sakor National Park and Kiri Sakor district. They accepted compensation offers that included several thousand dollars, new wooden homes and 2 hectares of farmland each at a relocation site, which is located about 15 km inland.
The Chinese firm Union Development Group (UDG) has been granted permission by the government to clear 36,000 hectares of land in the area to build a $3.8 billion tourism zone, complete with hotels, golf courses and an airport.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth responded in a letter yesterday to claims made by In Kong Chit, Licadho’s coordinator in Koh Kong, who wrote in February to CPP lawmaker Ay Khan and said that 21 people had died because their relocation site was further from health facilities than their previous location.
Mr. Mareth did not directly address the deaths, but claimed in his letter the people were better off than in their old, coastal village where they were “cut off from outside society and lived by nature miserably.”
“The Royal government decided to develop the Kiri Sakor coastal region in order to upgrade the national economy and alleviate the difficulty of people in this region,” he said. “This policy gained support from people, but the development, in its transitional phase, caused people difficulties.”
“[They] have such infrastructure as a school, health center, administration center, a well, a bridge, a good road,” he added. UDG has also provided funds for an ambulance to take patients to the hospital.
Mr. Kong Chit said yesterday that UDG has made improvements to the area that were not there just a month ago when he wrote his letter.
“I just got back from visiting the area, and there have been changes. This month, they built two health centers in the area…and they just built a school, but children have to walk 4 km” to reach it, he said, adding that a market and jobs were still lacking.
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