Environment Minister Say Sam Al is scheduled to visit Koh Kong province today, while a representative of Chinese-owned company Union Development Group said the minister is expected to pay a visit to their 45,000hectare land concession, which has been the cause of a long-running land dispute with villagers.
The minister’s visit to the area comes after the homes of about 45 families affected by UDG’s purported $3.8 billion tourist resort, which is planned for the concession, were burned down in January by armed security forces.
“Say Sam Al will be meeting with UDG,” the firm’s communications manager Wang Chao said Tuesday.
“I’m not sure what his plans are; the government arranged this tour and I think maybe they will see this project and other projects along the coast—maybe several, not just UDG,” Mr. Chao said.
“I think he will visit near the new village where the villagers were relocated to, but I’m not sure.”
Koh Kong Provincial Governor Bun Leut confirmed the minister’s visit, but stayed tight-lipped when pressed on a visit to UDG.
“He sets up the programs to come here,” Mr. Leut said. “But we are not clear what he is going to do.”
Botum Sakor district Governor Orn Phearak said he was aware of the visit, but referred questions to the Ministry of Environment.
The ministry’s cabinet chief, Sao Socheat, said Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts—both of which fall in the boundaries of the massive UDG land concession—would be visited.
The minister’s trip comes two days after opposition CNRP lawmaker-elect Son Chhay met with villagers who have been embroiled in the dispute with UDG since the concession was granted in 2008.
Mr. Chhay said after the visit that the Chinese firm had started planting cassava on land intended for the development of the mega-resort, which was earmarked for a golf course, hotels and a private airport.
In Kongcheth, provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said the minister should make time on his agenda to visit the families affected by the UDG project.
“If he could, he should conduct a reevaluation of the impact caused by the company’s development and the solutions that could be found for the villagers,” he said.
Villager Sun Kim Soeun, 58, from Botum Sakor district’s Ta Noun commune, said she was unaware of the minister’s visit but appealed to him to visit the disputed land.
“I want him to visit the places where the incidents occurred,” she said. “He should come to see the company bulldozing and destroying villagers’ rice fields and crops.”
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)
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