The Chinese-owned Union Development Group in Koh Kong province is bulldozing swaths of its land concession, originally intended for a massive tourist resort, to plant cassava and palm oil trees instead, a CNRP lawmaker-elect said Monday.
Son Chhay, lawmaker-elect and CNRP chief whip, visited the area Monday to meet with families whose homes were burned down by UDG in January and who then protested earlier this month to demand a resolution to the long-running dispute.
“We met with about 100 families and a company official came,” Mr. Chhay said by telephone.
“We don’t think it will be a useful meeting with the Chinese company, because we know that this whole concession was completely wrong. It is not really to do with what the contract had said. [UDG] said it would develop a first class hotel, for example, but now we find out they are going to take more land to plant cassava,” Mr. Chhay said.
UDG was granted a 45,000-hectare land concession within the boundaries of Botum Sakor National Park in 2008 with the intention of constructing a $3.8-billion tourist resort with hotels, golf courses and a private airport. The concession affects families who live in neighboring Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts.
“They have changed the contract from what they said, from the purpose of tourism and entertainment, to something else,” Mr. Chhay claimed.
“There is no evidence of [the resort]. This is land grabbing and corruption…. I spoke to one of the Chinese officials, who was wearing a military uniform and was in charge of clearing more land for cassava. He said they brought in 50 new tractors to clear land to grow cassava,” Mr. Chhay added.
Villager Sun Kim Soeun, 58, who is from Botum Sakor district’s Ta Noun commune, claimed police handcuffed her for three hours on January 21 while her makeshift 5- by 6-meter home was torched. She has yet to be compensated.
“They plan to grow cassava and plant palm oil trees,” she said, adding that the firm has been growing crops ever since the houses were torched. “They are not building a [tourist] city.”
Fellow villager Lay Keat said she too had seen the firm at work planting crops. “They are planting seeds and plowing people’s rice fields,” she said.
In Kongcheth, the provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said he was aware that UDG had been planting cassava for the past year on about 300 hectares of the concession—an area villagers were told was intended for an airport.
Botum Sakor district Governor Orn Phearak confirmed that UDG is planting the crops, but that these were only “to decorate their city.”
He referred further questions to UDG, which could not be reached for comment.
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