Environment Minister Visits UDG; Villagers Disappointed

Environment Minister Say Sam Al failed to meet the villagers locked in a long-running land dispute with the Chinese-owned company Union Development Group (UDG) on Wednesday, despite visiting company officials in Koh Kong province, according to a rights worker and a provincial official.

Mr. Sam Al arrived in Koh Kong province by helicopter, stopping briefly to visit the headquarters of the sprawling, $3.8 billion resort project—whose 45,000-hectare concession was cut out of the Botum Sakor National Park—to the disappointment and frustration of villagers who say they have yet to be compensated after their homes were torched in January.

“He only went to see the company’s area, but he did not go to see the areas where the company is bulldozing the people’s land,” said In Kongcheth, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho.

“This will never bring about any solution for the people, and it will make the people feel hopeless,” Mr. Kongcheth said, adding that Mr. Sam Al was swiftly carried away by helicopter to nearby Pailin province after meeting with UDG and provincial officials.

Villager Sun Kim Soeun, 58, from Botum Sakor district’s Ta Noun commune, said that she and other villagers had wanted to travel from their dusty relocation site to meet Mr. Sam Al.

“Many villagers wanted to meet him, but they couldn’t catch him on time,” she said. “His visit has been useless, because he couldn’t help with anything.”

In addition to compensation, villagers in the affected districts of Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor this week also said they want to know why the company has started planting cassava on a part of the concession intended for the development of an airport.

Sun Dara, the provincial deputy governor, said that Mr. Sam Al and provincial officials did not address compensation issues, focusing instead on certain sites of the elaborate development project, such as the port. Although Mr. Sam Al had a helicopter at his disposal, Mr. Dara said it would have been difficult for Mr. Sam Al to get to the disputed area to see the villagers, because the road is unfinished.

“We didn’t talk about the compensation issues, because his visit was just to see the general situation of the company’s development,” he said.

“But the local authorities raised all the compensation issues, and he [Mr. Sam Al] said that he will review the submitted documents.”

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