Villagers Block Road, Demand Compensation

About 140 villagers in Koh Kong province set up a roadblock for the second consecutive day Thursday, demanding compensation from a Chinese company they say burned down their homes to make way for part of a multibillion-dollar tourist resort, according to a rights worker and the villagers.

The villagers blocked a 55-km section of road leading from the provincial town to the company headquarters of Union Development Group—which has been locked in a land dispute with villagers since 2008 over UDG’s plans to turn part of Koh Kong’s once-pristine coastline into a $3.8-billion tourism zone, complete with hotels, golf courses and an airport. The project is located inside Botum Sakor National Park, where UDG has been allowed to clear 45,000 hectares, or about a quarter of the park.

“They blocked this road to prevent the company’s trucks from entering the company’s construction site. They are demanding compensation for the fire,” said In Kongcheth, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho.

Mr. Kongcheth said the roadblock began Wednesday, when about 105 villagers briefly clashed with 40 company security guards and six soldiers armed with AK-47 assault rifles that allegedly work for UDG. There were no injuries.

And last month, villagers claim the company sent security forces and 30 soldiers to the villagers’ homes in Kiri Sakor district’s Koh Sdech commune to remove them from their land because UDG claimed the homes were encroaching on their property. When they refused, the security forces and soldiers allegedly burned down 45 homes.

One villager, Sun Kim Soeun, 58, said the forces had handcuffed her for three hours while they burned down her home, which sits on seven hectares of rice field, on January 24.

“They came to remove my belongings and burned down my home. This was a very brutal act,” she said.

“I want the government to cut my land out of the company’s area so that I can grow rice for my children. Where can I go if I don’t have my rice field?” she said, adding that she had owned the land since 1993.

Sun Dara, deputy Koh Kong provincial governor, declined to comment on the issue.

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