Island shopping: Cambodian officials buy up the Cardamoms’ coast

A buying spree by Cambodia’s wealthy and politically connected elites has put the fate of a string of small islands in the balance, affecting the livelihoods of local fishers.

Bristling with coral reefs, marine life and palm trees, the islands dotting Cambodia’s western and southwestern coasts have long lured tourists and investors alike with white sandy beaches sloping into the azure waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

Beyond the postcard views, limited regulation and the availability of 99-year leases for fully foreign-owned companies have made these archipelagos a magnet for tourism magnates who, along with fugitives and government officials, have sought to cash in on the coast’s potential since the 2000s.

Speculative island purchases ran rampant as Cambodia’s tourism industry grew, with islands bought up and sold on again throughout the 2010s. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, brought much of this to an abrupt halt.

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