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Cambodian Villagers Block Last Leg of Trans-Asia Highway

A group of Cambodian villagers are blocking construction of a 13-kilometer section of a new highway that will link Singapore to Hong Kong and beyond. The villagers demand better compensation for their land.

Five years ago, then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that the new Trans-Asia Highway would link 32 countries with 141,000 kilometers of all-weather roads.

The highway will end decades of overland isolation and significantly bolster cross-border trade in Asia. But here in Kien Svay, in southeastern Cambodian, villagers are refusing to give up their land and make way for a final missing link in the highway. They say they have been offered too little for their land.

Kim Lorn, a 72-year-old grandmother, says she was offered just $200 to walk away from her home and business of 26 years.

Many living in one home

Community meetings have turned into rowdy protests. Photo shop owner Kong Heng says the government refuses to take into account how many people are living under the same roof.

He says some people are upset when their houses are affected and they get little compensation because they have a lot of family members. He has three families living in his house so when if they get little compensation there is nothing they can do, and they are disappointed.

The villagers' defiance resonates across Cambodia, where land grabbing and forced evictions dominate headlines. Poor land records and a high level of official corruption have meant that over the past several years, tens of thousands of poor Cambodians have lost their land to developers building hotels, golf courses and other lucrative projects.

Project could take another year to finish

Cambodian officials say the protests mean that final link connecting the Malay Peninsula with Vietnam and China through Cambodia will not be completed on schedule by the end of this year.

They say nagging resettlement issues mean it will take at least another 12 months to finish.

Villagers here in Kein Svay hope this means vastly improved compensation packages in return for their homes.