Villagers Struggle in Face Of Chinese Tourism Project

Villagers who have been relocated by a Chinese company developing Koh Kong province’s coastline are facing a food shortage as they are being prevented from using farmland that falls inside the firm’s development area, farmers and a hu­man rights worker said yesterday.

To help alleviate the situation, local authorities on Saturday delivered 20 tons of rice to 413 villagers who say they have not been able to grow enough food to sustain themselves, said Orn Phearak, Botum Sakor district governor.

Mr Phearak said the villagers had been asked to leave their land because China’s Union Develop­ment Group wanted to move ahead with its plan to build an airport in the area. He added that he had asked the inter-ministerial committee in charge of the project to talk with Union Development Group about finding a solution.

“I asked them for help, but I did not receive a response yet,” he said.

“The company has radically prevented farmers from going onto their farms,” said Srey Khmao, a villager in Botum Sakor’s Ta Noun Com­mune, who has refused to leave his house due to what he says is an unfair compensation deal.

Union Development Group re­ceived a 30,000-hectare concession inside Botum Sakor National Park in 2008 and began work last year. The $3.8 billion project aims to turn a large portion of Koh Kong’s pristine coastline into a tourism zone with hotels, golf courses and an airport.

Wang Chao, head of communications for Union Development Group, yesterday denied that villagers had been prevented from farming in the area and said that all matters involving resettlement were in the hands of local authorities.

“Right now, inside our boundary, we have no land problem,” he said. “We must follow the land law and construction law.” He added that Union Develop­ment Group was in the process of surveying the land for an airport but that the design phase had still not started.

Union Development Group has cleared a roughly 30-km stretch of woodlands from Thma Sar commune in Botum Sakor district to Koh Sdech commune in neighboring Kiri Sakor district and has built rows of houses for displaced families. However, much of the land has been deforested and is subject to water shortages.

 

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