Representatives of families embroiled in a land dispute with Union Development Group (UDG) on Monday gathered in front of the Ministry of Environment in a bid to bring about a speedy solution to the ongoing case.
The villagers from Koh Kong province’s Koh Sdech and Samrong communes in Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts sought responses over the petition which they had submitted to the ministry in May last year, according to Saing Puy, one of the villagers.
He said they also called on the ministry to accelerate their works in resolving the over-a-decade-old row with the Chinese firm.
“We have submitted petitions to the US, EU and Chinese embassies, as well as the Land Management and Environment ministries, but nobody responded. We have also talked to the local authorities, but they claimed they were unable to help because we are not from their jurisdictions,” he said.
The families locked in the spat, Puy continued, have lived in the area – covering about 170ha – since 1980 before UDG started destroying their houses, farmlands, and claimed their plots, despite the disputants holding land titles.
Tith Ten, another villager, said she has been having “difficult times over these years” because the company had prohibited her from growing crops on her land.
“The company destroyed our houses and farmlands with machinery, even though we had lived there for a long time. The cleared land was then left vacant and we were prohibited from going there because they claimed it belongs to the company,” she said.
She said UDG had taken legal measures which resulted in the detainment of her son-in-law behind bars.
“I ask the government, especially the prime minister, to find solutions so that we would not have to rely on anyone to help us. When we had land, we used harvest every year and always had enough food for two years,” she said.
Koh Sdech commune chief Sok Cheng said there were two groups of families who submitted the petitions. One group consists of people who lived within the commune, while the other lived outside. The authority has not addressed the problem for people in the latter group, he said.
“People from the first group already received resolutions when an inter-ministry committee came to assess the contested area. However, the committee has not completed its work to provide solutions for the second group,” he said.
On Monday, Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheakra requested the villagers to be patient while waiting for the resolutions from the “relevant ministries”.
“We are working to solve this issue . . . right now we are waiting for the decision from higher authorities to determine the best ways to address the dispute. We will see whether the dispute could be resolved just by using an inter-ministry mechanism or it must go through the land dispute resolution authority at the national level,” Pheaktra said.
The Post was unable to reach UDG representative Ly Takhai on Monday.