About 250 families who agreed to a deal with China’s Union Development Group (UDG) in 2011 to relocate away from its $3.8 billion tourist mecca in Koh Kong province have moved back to their old homes after hearing that other villagers received more compensation than them, a rights worker said on Sunday.
The families, who have lived on barren land about 20 km from their old coastal homes in Kiri Sakor district since being pushed out, moved back en masse on Friday after learning that 22 holdout families secured between $7,000 and $15,000 this month to leave, said Adhoc’s provincial coordinator In Kongchit.
Those families also received 5 hectares of land, in comparison to the 1.5 hectares of land provided to the 250 families who left five years ago when the development started, the rights official explained.
“The 250 families returned to stay on their homeland to demand that the company give them more compensation for the construction of their houses and compensation for their fruit trees and the various crops that the company destroyed,” he said.
The villagers were preparing petitions that they planned to submit to the district governor tomorrow asking for help, he added.
UDG foreman Ly Takhai said the families now returning had already struck deals with the company and would not be receiving any additional compensation.
“I have received the information that there are some families returning to stay on the land in the last few days, and we will ask the local authorities to push those people off the land,” Mr. Takhai said.
“I wish to state that those families have come to stay on the land illegally, because they already received compensation from the company,” he added.
District governor Khim Chandy said that he believed the families were simply protesting and had not, in fact, moved permanently back onto the land.
“I wish to deny the return of those families,” Mr. Chandy said. “They are just gathering on the land for some time to demand more compensation from UDG.”
However, Ung Virak, a former soldier who lost his right leg and arm during the civil war in the 1990s, said he had no immediate plans to leave his old 15-hectare plot, which he used to farm fruit and cashews from 1987 until UDG arrived.
“I have returned to stay on my homeland to demand that the company provide compensation with transparency like they did for those 22 families,” he said. “I will build a house on my native homeland if the company does not give suitable compensation.”