Koh Kong Residents Protest UDG at Chinese Embassy

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About 20 residents of Koh Kong province’s Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts involved in a land dispute with the Union Development Group (UDG) complained in front of Chinese Embassy on May 27, 2019. Image: Khut Sokun

About 20 residents of Koh Kong province’s Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts involved in a land dispute with the Union Development Group (UDG) said Chinese diplomats on Monday pledged to help them find a resolution to their 11-year-old woes after they made a five-hour trip to Phnom Penh to protest at the embassy.

Saing Puy, a representative of families living on Kiri Sakor’s Koh Sdech commune, said that the protesters secured a meeting with embassy officials, who told them that they were unaware of still-unresolved disputes with the Chinese-owned development after previously having told the company to resolve the issues already.

“The Union company is a Chinese company so the Chinese ambassador has to take responsibility,” Puy said. “He must advise the Chinese company not to violate the rights of Cambodians. The company started its developments without respect for its contracts [with the government] and encroached on people’s land.”

“They have not found any resolutions for the people. They have banned people from entering their land and houses for 11 years, so where can those people go?”

Puy said the residents had told the embassy officials there were still at least 77 families who had yet to come to a resolution over overlapping land claims with the company and asked for the diplomats to again intervene to help negotiations.

The U.S. has accused the tourist resort development — which is reportedly being built at a cost of $3.8 billion and will feature a deep sea port, multiple helipads — and its own international airport, of being a secret Chinese foreign military base.

The Cambodian government in 2008 awarded 36,000 hectares of economic land concessions across Botum Sakor district and Kiri Sakor district to UDG. It granted a further 9,100 hectares three years later.

Some 1,143 families were soon forced off about 10,000 hectares — and 1,500 houses were dismantled and cleared away — within the first five-year stage of the development, according to a 2012 report by the Community Legal Education Center, but many other families resisted resettlement and continued to fight for the rights to their land.

Another protester, Chhay Kim Thuch, said that the developers of the project had continued to encroach on more and more land around the area, forcing increasing numbers of residents to flee their homes and livelihoods with no recompense.

“We have unjustly suffered for 11 years because the Chinese have encroached on our land,” Kim Thuch said. “This company has forced the owners of the country, who are living on their own land, to lose their careers and farms, to fall into debt, to clear away their homes and to make their children lose opportunities to study.”

“So we ask the Chinese Embassy to help look into their own people who have come to live in another country and encroached upon the lands of others.”

The Chinese Embassy could not be reached for comment.

Sok Sothy, a deputy governor of Koh Kong province, said many of the protesting residents who still had not relocated from the UDG development area were in fact living on protected forestry areas and had no rights to be there.

“If they are living in the protected area, [a deal for compensation] will only come there is the decision from the government,” Sothy said, explaining that those who had settled on protected land “would not, as a policy, get a resolution.”

Hour In, a provincial monitor for local rights group Licadho, said he believed that the residents were right to lobby the Chinese Embassy directly. He said Cambodians authorities had the responsibility to find a resolution but had failed to do so, and that any deals for compensation would ultimately be at the behest of the Chinese officials.

“As far as I know, that Chinese company has a big investment from the Chinese government and gets funds from the Chinese government,” In said.

“If there is an intervention from the Chinese Embassy, the conflict will be solved, because in the previous resolutions, it was the Chinese company that made the decisions — and the authorities just helped in coordinating with the people.”

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

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