Nine families who lost their farmland to an under-construction special economic zone (SEZ) in Koh Kong province filed a complaint with the provincial government on Friday seeking to have the land excised from the industrial park and returned to them.
The families are the only holdouts among more than 100 families that were initially kicked off their land to make way for the 1,743-hectare SEZ in Kiri Sakor district, which is being constructed by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, a prominent businessman with close ties to the government.
While most of the families living on the land slated for development reached settlements with Mr. Yong Phat last year, the nine holdouts say their land is worth more than what they were offered for it. They say they are filing a complaint to get their land excised from the SEZ after their requests to meet with a representative from Mr. Yong Phat’s company went ignored.
“Since the company has no intention of solving the dispute, we need to get our land back and we are requesting that provincial authorities issue us titles, too,” said Preap Chantha, a representative of the families, which are seeking the return of 67.8 hectares in total. They are asking for between $0.50 and $10 per square meter, depending on where their land is located.
She said the villagers were spurred to file the complaint after the company began building a fence around the SEZ last month, including the land still in dispute.
However, Sin Satha, a representative of the Koh Kong SEZ company, a subsidiary of Mr. Yong Phat’s LYP Group, said the firm had proven that it was acting in good faith when it settled the disputes with the other families.
Mr. Satha said the firm would continue negotiating with five of the nine families that filed the complaint, because they were part of the original group of 135 families identified as having legitimate claims to land in the area, but that it did not recognize the rights of the other four, which made their claims later.
“But what the remaining families are demanding is too high,” he added. “For example, some families are asking for $190,000 and others are demanding $130,000. The land in that area is not worth up to $10 or $20 per square meter.”
Mr. Satha also warned that cutting the disputants’ land out of the SEZ at this point would be difficult. “Cutting land is not like removing a car from the land,” he said.
Provincial governor Bun Leut said he had received the villagers’ complaint and would look into the issue.
“Basically, the company has formed a committee to solve the dispute with families, so I need to check and verify the names of villagers in this complaint filed with me today with the list of families that have already received money from the company,” he said.