Thousands of villagers in southern Cambodia’s Kampot province are being forced from their homes by work on a nearby seaport which has filled in long stretches of seashore, barring them from traditional fishing areas, sources in the country say.
No longer able to fish, many former residents of the Teuk Chhou district’s Prek Thnoat commune have now left to find work elsewhere, one villager told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Before the Try Pheap Group took over this area, my family was able to make between 30,000 riel [U.S. $7] to 100,000 riel [$25] from fishing every day, but now thousands of fishing families have lost their jobs because the seashore has been completely filled in,” he said.
“Some people have now left their homes to work for someone else,” he said
The Try Pheap Group, which began work on the seaport in 2017, has now built a wall two kilometers long along the seashore to prevent villagers from entering the area, RFA’s source said, adding that villagers are afraid to protest against the company because they fear persecution by authorities.
Previously, authorities would quickly arrest villagers entering flooded forest areas to clear trees, the villager said. “But when the Try Pheap company began filling in the seashore, authorities did nothing to stop them.”
Concerns over transparency
Also speaking to RFA, Yun Phally—Kampot provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—confirmed that the Try Pheap Group’s presence in the area has caused thousands of families to lose their jobs, with some now turning to construction work and others forced to migrate from their homes.
Meanwhile, the company’s ban on seashore access for local residents is a possible sign that company owner Try Pheap is concealing details of his investment plans, Adhoc official Soeung Senkaruna said, adding that authorities need to carefully investigate the company’s activities there.
“We don’t know if the relevant authorities have properly examined the legitimacy of the investment, or if they have looked at the [project’s] environmental and social impacts in the area,” he said.
If the company is fully complying with the law, it shouldn’t bar entry by local residents he added.
Calls seeking comment from a Try Pheap Group representative and from commune, district, and provincial officials rang unanswered this week.
Company hit with sanctions
On Dec. 9, 2019, International Corruption Day, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had levied sanctions against Try Pheap and 11 of his companies, saying he had established a network of government officials and military figures who had helped him smuggle timber out of the country in exchange for bribes.
Land disputes are a bitter problem in Cambodia, where rural villagers and urban dwellers alike have been mired in conflicts that a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia has warned could threaten the country’s stability.
The country’s land issues date from the period of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which forced large-scale evacuations and relocations, followed by a period of mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when refugees returned in the 1990s after a decade of civil war.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pheap Aun. Written in English by Richard Finney.