US Embassy, USAID and NGO officials visiting disputed land on Koh Pich were greeted Monday by more than 50 families who appealed for help in their efforts to have the government ensure they are given a fair price for their land.
Five officials from the embassy and USAID and four representatives from the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, an NGO providing legal support to the villagers, visited the island Monday morning.
The US embassy official said he went to Koh Pich to hear about the land dispute from the villagers directly and reiterated US support for human rights in Cambodia.
The official told the villagers that he didn’t want to see the dispute turn violent.
“I want to see a resolution without violence,” he said.
Villager Pao Sovann said the visit gave him hope.
“The embassy of the United States really has much influence on our government,” Pao Sovann said. “People would have only tears in their eyes if there were no intervention.”
Villagers reiterated their hope that the government would open up their land to bidding from other companies besides 7 NG, which has declined to pay the villagers’ demand of around $5 per square meter.
Representatives from 7 NG could not be reached for comment Monday.
Land on the island, located opposite the NagaCorp Casino, has been estimated to be worth about $24 per square meter.
“The government’s policy is to reduce poverty, but if they do not allow more companies to buy our land, it means the government is not going to help poor people,” said Koh Pich villager An Veng.
Villagers also said Monday that they are fearful about the completion of a small wooden bridge leading across the Bassac River to their homes.
They have so far relied on small boats to ferry them to and from the island. The bridge, they fear, would make their land easily accessible for police vehicles.