Minister Meets NGOs Over Ongoing UDG Dispute

Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Thursday met with U.N. and NGO representatives to discuss the ongoing dispute between the powerful Chinese-owned Union Development Group (UDG) and villagers in Koh Kong province who say they were kicked off their land and had their shelters torched.

In February, Mr. Sam Al visited UDG—which in 2008 was granted a 45,000-hectare land concession to build a hotel, airport and golf course within the boundaries of Botum Sakor National Park. But villagers in the affected Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts said they were disappointed when he failed to meet with them to hear their grievances.

Mr. Sam Al could not be reached Thursday, but on Wednesday, he told reporters at a press conference that the company is under obligation to “follow its contract and the master plan,” while people affected by the development and who received compensation “have to accept what the contract of the company promised to give them.”

Villagers say, however, that the land to which they have been relocated is unsuitable for farming.

“His Excellency has shown a stance that the Ministry of Environment wants to resolve this issue based on a win-win principle and that is in the best interests of the Cambodian people,” said a post to the minister’s Facebook page Thursday.

In a statement, the NGO Forum said 398 of the 1,963 affected families have yet to receive any compensation for loss of land and that the relocation site lacked water, toilets and adequate housing.

In an email, Wan Hea-Lee, representative of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the meeting, which was organized by the NGO Forum, had been constructive.

“We asked whether the [government] committee would agree to meet periodically with concerned organizations such as those present today, in order to keep each other abreast of the unfolding situation. He agreed. We asked that a distinct mechanism for the handling of the complaints of the individual families be established, given the failure of the existing mechanisms to resolve them satisfactorily, to which he also agreed,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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