The Ministry of Environment said it would send a delegation to Koh Kong province in an attempt to resolve a long-running land dispute pitting villagers against a Chinese firm after a fight broke out between the residents and company security guards Wednesday afternoon.
China’s Union Development Group (UDG) has already evicted more than 1,000 families to make way for a 45,000-hectare, $3.8-billion tourist mecca it has been building in the middle of Botum Sakor National Park since 2010. Some 30 families are still fighting to keep their homes.
Tes Sieng Heang, a representative of the holdouts, said UDG started dumping piles of dirt on a road leading to their village in Kiri Sakor district on December 23 in a bid to force them to move out. In response, she said, the villagers began blocking the main road running to the local public port.
“We decided to block the road because the district governor has refused to intervene to clear the road the villagers use every day,” Ms. Sieng Heang said.
When a UDG truck showed up Wednesday with more dirt to block the road to the village, she said, residents gathered to stop a second truck from doing the same, at which point about 30 security guards working for the company stepped in. During an ensuing scuffle, villagers threw petrol bombs at the trucks and security guards threw rocks at the villagers.
“Four villagers got minor injuries during the scuffle with the security guards, who used stones to attack the villagers,” she said.
District governor Khem Chandy said local authorities had tried convincing the villagers to call off their blockade of the port road but to no effect.
“We haven’t taken legal action yet because I am waiting for orders from the top leaders,” he said.
Environment Minister Say Sam Al said he would send a team to the area to try to resolve the dispute, but would not say exactly when.
“UDG has dumped dirt to block the road, but we have also received complaints that the villagers are blocking a road,” he said. “This case is complicated and we are working on it.”