Koh Kong Land Protesters Call for Official Response in UDG Dispute

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Dozens of villagers involved in a land dispute with Chinese company Union Development Group protest outside the Koh Kong provincial hall on February 3, 2020. (Adhoc)

About 100 people involved in a land dispute with a Chinese company in Koh Kong province protested in front of the provincial hall on Monday, seeking a response from authorities who had earlier promised a resolution to the decade-long conflict. 

The Cambodian government granted Union Development Group (UDG) a 36,000-hectare economic land concession in Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts in 2008. The company says it’s building a massive resort, which some have posited could host a Chinese military installation.

Cambodian officials have denied the claims. UDG received an additional 9,100 hectares in 2011.

Preap Ratha, who said she represents land disputants from Prek Khsach commune, said the residents felt they were spending too much time protesting, but they had no other choice if any businesses or homes they built could be taken down by UDG.

The villagers hoped officials would protect their land within the company’s development area, according to Ratha, who added that the community could do without foreign investment.

“We don’t need companies investing in this place, because wherever Chinese companies come to invest, they just make the people cry,” she said. 

UDG’s 45,000-hectare overall concession pushed families to abandon and dismantle more than 1,500 homes on 10,000 hectares of land, according to a 2012 report from the Community Legal Education Center. 

Representatives of the 1,143 families who were forcibly removed from their homes inside the concession have protested outside government offices in both Koh Kong and Phnom Penh, appealing to the Interior Ministry for assistance late last year.

Chinese diplomats pledged in a meeting with residents to assist villagers who protested outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh last May, but community representatives said this week that they had received no updates from any official.

Koh Kong provincial governor Mithona Phouthong could not be reached for comment. Deputy governor Sok Sothy told VOD in November that it was beyond his role to resolve the dispute between protesters and UDG.  

Tith Ten, another representative of Prek Khsach villagers, told VOD that in December Koh Kong authorities had promised to find a resolution for residents, but no officials had visited them nor suggested any solutions.

“Despite how difficult it has been, we are still struggling to find a solution,” Ten said. “Because when there is no land, there is no life [for us]. We rely on farming. We are not state workers.”

Pen Vuthea, a monitor for human rights group Licadho in Koh Kong, said that if the government continued to avoid resolving the dispute, life for the affected families would worsen, as would Cambodia’s image on the international stage. 

“This development project started because the government is the provider [of the land]. The government is therefore responsible for resolving it soon,” Vuthea said.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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