Prime Minister Hun Sen has sent a trusted adviser to meet with villagers in Koh Kong province who are locked in a land dispute with a Chinese company as it tries to build a tourist hub worth billions of dollars.
Vann Sam Oeun, vice chairman of the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, met with representatives of more than 300 families on Saturday, hoping to solve the dispute with the Union Development Group, which has been running now for four years.
In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, told VOA Khmer that the 318 families had complained to the land dispute authority in April, before meeting with Vann Sam Oeun this week.
“Mr.Vann Sam Oeun listened to the villagers’ concerns and also accepted their requests,” In Kongchet said. “He promised that he would make a report to the prime minister, the head of the government, asking for recommendations to solve the problem when he returns [to Phnom Penh]. He was also happy that local villagers told him honestly what happened in their area because these problems are also the concern of the government.”
Union Development was granted economic land concessions totaling 45,100 hectares in 2008, to develop a large-scale tourist city in the center of Botum Sakor National Park, near the Gulf of Thailand. They began operations in 2011, clearing land to build a seaport, an airport, and hotels and offices along the coast.
Sun Dara, deputy governor of Koh Kong, said the majority of people in the land dispute had already been provided compensation and have moved from their old homes to new ones. The remaining 10 percent are residents having difficulty moving from the area, he said. It is they who Vann Sam Oeun will seek a solution for.
Among those still in the dispute is Prak Thorn, aged 70. He suggested the government allow people to remain in Poy Chopun village, Koh Sdech commune, the home of 23 families, who have been there since 1983. The arrival of Hun Sen’s adviser has given people hope. “We can’t say that we don’t believe what he says, because he is a public official under the prime minister,” Prak Thorn said.