Cambodian conglomerate sparks conflict in Botum Sakor National Park

For decades Cambodia’s Botum Sakor National Park has been carved up and the land handed out to companies as economic concessions, at the expense of the ecosystem and local communities.

“We’ve filed complaints with four institutions now — the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Land Management, and the Ministry of National Defense — but only the interior ministry has responded,” said Vichea*, a resident of Cambodia’s Thma Sa commune, who requested the name of his village not be published when interviewed in April 2022. “The local authorities tell [us] they will do something to help us but they don’t; anyone who stands up to protest these developments is accused of being an opposition activist.”

More than a year later, in May 2023, reporters caught up with Vichea again in Botum Sakor National Park. Spanning 182,342 hectares (450,577 acres) along the Gulf of Thailand in southwest Cambodia, Botum Sakor was once the country’s largest national park. But more than half of the park was sold off to private developers between 1998 and 2017, mostly to investors with ties to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). As of July 2023, just 18% of the park remains protected.

In 2008, the Cambodian government awarded Chinese developer Union Development Group, known locally as UDG, 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) within the park’s boundaries, kicking off a series of land disputes that became increasingly desperate as they dragged on for more than a decade.

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