Meeting Between Koh Kong Families, Development Firm Fruitless

Representatives for some 200 families in a yearslong land dispute with the Union Development Group (UDG) in Koh Kong province met for the first time with both company and government officials Tuesday but left with little to show.

A group of local NGOs brought the three sides together at Phnom Penh’s Cambodiana Hotel hoping to get them to reach a resolution to the dispute over a massive 45,000-hectare, $3.8 billion tourist complex the Chinese firm is building in the middle of Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor National Park.

The 200-odd families represented at the meeting are either unhappy with the compensation they have received for their homes and farms, or angry because they received nothing at all. At the meeting were Pon Saroeun, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, deputy provincial governor Sun Dara and UDG spokesman Wang Chao.

Preap Ratha, a representative for the families, said part of her farmland collapsed into a canal built by UDG in 2014 and that she was never compensated. She said 19 other families were also affected.

“We can’t accept this because the digging of the canal has hurt our village,” Ms. Ratha said. “I am Khmer with Cambodian citizenship, so why can’t I live on Khmer land?”

The families still holding on to some land in the development area want UDG to cut the areas out of their project site and let them stay. Mr. Saroeun of the Environment Ministry said he supported the idea and would raise it with his bosses.

“I support this, but I can’t deal with this problem personally because it’s beyond my authority,” he told the villagers. “So I will bring this problem to the leaders of the ministry so it can be sent to the head of the government. Only Samdech [Prime Minister Hun Sen] has the right to make a decision.”

Mr. Saroeun also asked UDG to consider withdrawing a complaint it filed with the provincial court in February that prompted the court to order a particular group of 47 families to leave their homes, and said the people bulldozing land and tearing down homes for the UDG project should be prosecuted.

“This is a serious issue and my side can’t accept it,” he said. “This is not allowed by law; the people who do this are criminals.”

However, the undersecretary did not specifically say that the government would be laying any charges.

UDG’s Mr. Chao said he, too, would take the villagers’ complaints and requests to his superiors.

“We can’t solve the problem today,” he said through a translator. “We have to know where the problems are happening.”

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