The Koh Kong provincial authority has announced a plan to demarcate land subject to a dispute between local villagers and Chinese corporation Union Development Group (UDG).
The land identification process is aimed at solving outstanding disputes in the province and follows calls from senior officials in Phnom Penh for the local authority to do more to end the disputes to avoid protesters demonstrating in the capital during the election campaign.
UDG leased more than 40,000 hectares in the province’s Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts from the government in 2008 to build a mixed tourism development costing over $4 billion.
The environment and land management ministries will work together to “collect data indicating the identities of the land where the people are obviously living, occupying, and using to gain benefit,” according to an official statement.
Many villagers, however, hold no hope in such a scheme, having fought for years to have their claims to the land recognized by the authorities without avail.
Tith Ten, 61, worries that her 40-hectare plot of land in Preksach commune will not be included in the plan.
“They said all of you must see and listen clearly, the land being used obviously means it has crops growing around your homes. But the land located far away is forest land. They asked how you got that land and where did you get it from?” she said.
Ten, who has often traveled to Phnom Penh to protest with others from the area, said the government should also consider claims to land left empty as a result of the conflict with UDG, and not just focus on currently cultivated land.
Saign Puy, another villager, from Kiri Sakor, said the villagers do not believe the plan will find a just resolution to the conflict because officials had not shown an interest in solving their dispute amicably over the past 10 years.
“The villagers waited and wanted to end this dispute. For the past protests, we lost time and money. It costs us a lot. We are tired with the protests as well,” she said.
UDG has forced more than 1,000 families from their homes over the past 10 years. Many of the displaced have not received adequate compensation for their loss, according to victims’ advocates.
Some have also faced legal action from UDG.
Uch Touch, a Koh Kong provincial government spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
Huor In, a local rights worker, said several hundred families remained at odds with UDG.