Villagers Detained After Camping Outside Koh Kong Hall in Protest

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Villagers in a dispute with Chinese concessionaire UDG stand in front of Koh Kong Provincial Hall in a photo posted to Facebook on September 29, 2020.

Four Koh Kong villagers were detained for about 12 hours after camping outside the provincial hall in a group of about 60 land protesters since Monday, they said.

The group say they are in a 12-year-long dispute with the Union Development Group, or UDG, which has been developing the $3.8-billion Dara Sakor tourism resort in the province. The villagers said they were calling on the provincial administration to act on the case.

Chhay Kimthuch, one of the protesters camping outside the hall, said four villagers had been detained in the dark at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday after dozens of officers arrived to disperse the encampment.

“The authorities arrived quietly and grabbed [people] in the tents,” she said.

The four villagers, including a village representative, Preab Roatha, were held at Khemara Phoumin city police headquarters until their release around 3 p.m., Kimthuch said.

Saing Puy, from Koh Sdach commune, added that the tents outside the provincial hall were removed and authorities said they would not be allowed to stay there.

“The Koh Kong provincial authority should not have done this to the people,” she said.

Deputy provincial governor Sok Sothy told VOD that there were no arrests; authorities simply took an administrative measure to maintain public order.

The four villagers were “questioned to note down what their real intentions were in coming,” Sothy said.

UDG’s 45,000-hectare overall economic land concession, granted in 2008 and 2011, 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.

Last month, the U.S. sanctioned the Chinese-owned company, alleging it “used Cambodian military forces to intimidate local villagers and to clear out land necessary for UDG to build the Dara Sakor project.” It also suggested that the resort could be converted to host military assets.

Cambodian officials and UDG have denied the claims.

Hour In, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said people who had lost land were being further victimized by the suppression of protests.

“People became victims of losing land, and when they protested, they became victims even more because of the authorities’ actions,” In said.

Provincial governor Mithona Phouthorng said provincial officials and the Land Management Ministry were studying the dispute to clearly identify the people involved and make other clarifications in order to move toward a solution.

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

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