|Protest against UDG in Koh Kong. Photo: Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)|
Villagers in Koh Kong, Cambodia, say that their lands have been bulldozed by employees of the Union Development Group, a Chinese company, which is building a massive casino on a 45,000-hectare-land concession inside Botum Sakor National Park.
The concession was carved out in April 2008 on protected land near the Gulf of Thailand that was once home to bears, elephants, gibbons and tigers and awarded to UDG, real estate company from Tainjin in northern China, one of many special deals cut by the Cambodian government to attract foreign tourists and investors.
UDG says that it plan to build a $3.8 billion resort complex that will include a casino called "Angkor Wat on Sea" plus an international airport, a cruise ship port, apartment buildings, hotels and golf courses. Villagers who expected to lose their lands were promised $8,000 per hectare.
Almost six years after the original deal was signed some 1,100 families have been evicted from their lands, according to a 2012 report by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) Some were offered as little as $300 a hectare.
“Villagers who were forced to move just got fake promises from the authority and [the company] took over their land without fair compensation,” Ouch Leng, the head of Adhoc’s land program, told the Phnom Penh Post. “[They are] living in horrific conditions. Their right to their homes was withdrawn.”
One villager who was asked to describe the land they were awarded in compensation described it to Reuters thus: "No work, no water, no school, no temple. Just malaria."
Last month, the Cambodian Council of Ministers passed a resolution halting development until the villagers were fairly compensated.
But in recent weeks villagers who refused to accept the low compensation rates complain that UDG dispatched bulldozers, guarded by armed men, to destroy their rice fields and set fire to houses. “We told them there was a ban, but they didn’t listen to us because they have soldiers with weapons,” Sun Kim Soeun, a community member whose house was torched, told the Cambodia Daily. “If I lose my rice field, I am hopeless.”
UDG has not commented on the situation but local politicians have defended the actions: “The company is only bulldozing the land for which villagers have received compensation,” says Orn Phearak, the district governor,.
Other politicians disagree. “This is land grabbing and corruption,” Son Chhay of the Cambodia National Rescue Party told the Cambodia Daily after he met with the villagers in February. “There is no evidence of [the resort].”
The central government has kept a distance from the conflict. Say Sam Al, the environment minister, who visited the area by helicopter two days after Chhay and met with UDG, failed to talk to the aggrieved community members.
“He only went to see the company’s area, but he did not go to see the areas where the company is bulldozing the people’s land,” In Kongcheth, provincial coordinator for Licadho, a human rights group, told Cambodia Daily.