How a ‘dirty gambling company’ may have set the standard for habitat destruction in Cambodia

“I was detained for a night, the authorities had come to tear down another house, so I went to help, but ended up getting arrested instead,” said Phal Seat, a 47-year-old resident in Koh Kong province’s Botum Sakor district. “Before, we lived near the sea, we had a livelihood there, but we were made to move for UDG’s [Union Development Group] concession. They made us move here, by this road, but now they won’t give us land titles.”

Seat lost his 5-hectare plot of land, as did the estimated 1,000 families locked in an ongoing land dispute with UDG—a Chinese state-owned enterprise—that was granted a 36,000-hectare concession in Botum Sakor National Park in 2008, followed by an additional 9,100-hectare concession granted in 2011. The $3.8 billion investment is set to consume roughly 20 percent of Cambodia’s coast, which had previously provided Seat and other Cambodians with fish, crabs and snails.

“Nobody comes to intervene, no-one can solve our problems—these days I feel like I see a lot of injustice, we cannot build houses here because we don’t have land titles, we cannot farm because we don’t have land titles and we cannot have land titles because the local authorities won’t give them to us,” Seat said.

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