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Displaced Villagers Return to Land, Demand More Compensation

A local villager cooks dinner in Ta Thorng village, in Koh Kong province, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Like many poor people in rural Cambodia, she has no electricity and uses a small wood burning stove to cook rice, the staple food nationwide. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Many had ended up in debt to loan sharks and selling the land they received in compensation in order to pay off the debts.

Some 200 families displaced from the multi-billion-dollar Chinese development in Koh Kong province have said they will return to the land they lost after accepting compensation packages from the company in 2012.

The Union Development Group (UDG) agreed resettlement deals with the villagers, who relocated to new sites more than three years ago. But since then they have complained of poor living conditions and indebtedness at the relocation sites, while more recent compensation agreements made with other villagers have led them to reassess their decision.

In May, 22 families received compensation from the company after negotiating higher payments than those who moved in 2012.

Um Virak, a representative of the families from Kiri Sakor district’s Koh Sdech commune, said the 2012 claimants had been given a bad deal and had been relocated to an area where they had struggled to earn a living.

Many had ended up in debt to loan sharks and selling the land they received in compensation in order to pay off the debts.

Studies of the new relocation sites have shown that average household incomes have fallen since the move.

“As you already know, in the new location, the people faced a lot of difficulties, so some people sold most of their land, meaning they couldn't almost find houses to live in now due their impoverished standard of living,” he said.

“We just want to get equal money and land. Then, I will stop,” he added.

UDG was granted a 45,000-hectare concession by the government in 2008 and said it would invest $3.8 billion into a multi-purpose tourism development in the heart of the Botum Sokor National Park.

More than 1,000 people have already been relocated, while small numbers of holdouts remain on the UDG concession.

In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said: “They returned to their old residence and demanded the Chinese firm and inter-ministerial committee provide cash compensation for their land, house and farm products.”

He added that the families granted compensation in May had only received more than their counterparts after protesting for many years and enduring harassment and intimidation from company security guards.

Bun Leut, provincial governor for Koh Kong province, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday that they had not received any formal complaints from the aggrieved villagers.

“First we must wait and see what action the company will take,” he said. “The firm also needs to contact the authorities.”

A UDG representative could not be reached for comment.

Once completed, the UDG resort will include a private airport, shopping center, port, and a large golf course.