Commission Questions Minister Over Mega-Project in Koh Kong

After a three-and-a-half hour meeting with the National Assembly’s human rights commission Tuesday, Environment Minister Say Sam Al said he would consider its recommendations for helping families facing eviction by a Chinese mega-project in Koh Kong province, but refrained from making any commitments.

The commission, headed by opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, called the minister for questioning over a $3.8-billion tourist project that China’s Union Development Group (UDG) is building in the middle of Botum Sakor National Park. The firm has already evicted about 1,000 families to make way for the project, and a few hundred more are still standing in its way.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al, right, leaves a meeting with the human rights commission at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Environment Minister Say Sam Al, right, leaves a meeting with the human rights commission at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

After the commission’s closed-door meeting Tuesday, Mr. Chhay Eang said the environment minister provided the lawmakers with some “positive information” about what he was doing to try to settle the long-running land dispute, but did not elaborate.

He said the commission made four recommendations: help find new land for a group of 318 families who have yet to be evicted; ensure that those families are not forced to leave their current homes; investigate reports of bribes and unmet promises of compensation for those already evicted; and provide a full list of families compensated for land they have lost.

Speaking with reporters, Mr. Sam Al said he would think about it.

“About the recommendations the commission has made, we will study them and talk about how to find a solution for the villagers,” he said.

“I admit there are difficulties sometimes. But they are individual cases, and it is not our policy to let this happen,” he added.

A group of 47 families involved in the dispute has accused UDG guards of using heavy-handed tactics to try to force them off their land. They were given a 60-day notice by the provincial court to leave their homes that expired Monday.

“I don’t want to talk about it because this case is with the court,” Mr. Sam Al said of the families’ dispute. “But we have no policy of forced evictions or of using violence on villagers.”

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