About 34 villagers from Koh Kong’s Kiri Sakor district staged a non-violent protest against a Chinese development firm that attempted to clear villagers’ land this week without providing any compensation, according to district Governor Chheng Chhek.
China’s state-owned Union Development Group planned to develop 36,000 hectares of land and invest about US$3.8 billion in an ecotourism development project, which could affect more than 1,000 families in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts.
Chheng Chhek said the firm used excavators to clear villagers’ farmland beginning on Sunday and that he asked the provincial governor to find a resolution because the villagers were living there legally and were authorised by local officials.
“They could not find a resolution so they stopped clearing land [yesterday] for negotiations with the firm,” Chheng Chhek said.
“We will try to find a resolution for both parties as soon as possible,” he said, adding that if the firm wanted to buy villagers’ land they should do so according to market price.
Nin Sen, 39, a villager in Prek Khsach commune within Kiri Sakor district, said the firm hired seven workers, two armed soldiers and three excavators to clear the villagers’ farmland to dig a channel about five metres wide and seven kilometres long around the villagers’ land.
“Thirty-four villagers gathered yesterday to prevent the firm from continuing to clear the farmland, but we had no violence,” she said.
Preap Narin, 52, another villager, said more than 100 families in the commune had agreed to sell their land to the firm for about $200 to $300 per hectare.
He added, however, that 34 families have refused to sell.
“It is very unjust for us,”Preap Narin said. “We have been living here over 30 years and we have an official letter recognised by the authorities, but the government denied our legal right to live here and also granted an economic land concession on our land to a private firm for 99 years,” he said.
China’s state-owned Union Development Group could not be reach for comment yesterday.